Ausadie Building could become first local historic landmark
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
The historic Ausadie Building—the “Jewel of First Avenue”—has retained its stately presence on First Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids for nearly a century, even as the area surrounding it has changed, with other nearby buildings demolished to erect parking.
Co-owner Tim Oberbroeckling didn’t want to see the same fate come to the Ausadie Building, 845 First Ave. SE, even if the apartment building was no longer in his hands.
He and Richard Cooley spent the past 25 years on restoration and meticulous upkeep of the building, constructed in 1923, and had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
Now, the building is poised to make history in Cedar Rapids as what could become the city’s first local historic landmark.
Local landmark status would offer the building protection, much the same as homes in the city’s two local historic districts receive, said Jeff Hintz, a Cedar Rapids city planner and staff liaison for the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Any changes to the exterior of buildings in those two districts must undergo review in front of the commission, which has held fast against any demolitions. Listing on the National Register does not offer that same protection, as evidenced by the 2011 demolition of the former People’s Church, 600 Third Ave. SE, the first building on the Register to be razed in Cedar Rapids without previous damage by fire or natural disaster.
Local landmark designation for individual properties has been in the city’s codes, Hintz said, but the Ausadie Building was the first site nominated for that status, which identifies single properties worthy of preservation.
“This would be the very first one in Cedar Rapids history,” Hintz told the City Planning Commission at its meeting Thursday, Nov. 13.
The commission unanimously approved a measure to consider the building for local historic landmark status. That recommendation next goes to the Cedar Rapids City Council, which will likely hear the proposal in December. The council has the final say.
“I see this as another way to protect it,” said Oberbroeckling, who is a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. “I also thought this would be a great learning tool.”
As co-owner of the first building to go through the process, Oberbroeckling said he is willing to talk to other property owners about the steps, benefits and challenges of the local landmark designation. Any building, including private homes, can be nominated, with similar factors as National Register listings, including notable architecture or people associated with the site.
The Ausadie Building is named after a combination of the first names of original owners Austin and Sadie Palmer. Austin Palmer became well-known for his Palmer Method of Handwriting.
Iowa’s State Historic Preservation Office, which signed off on the nomination for local landmark status, advised that the entire Ausadie property receive the designation. The courtyard of the three-story brick building contains what is often referred to as a “secret garden,” with a pool, koi pond and gazebo.
The building, originally with 25 apartment units and now 20, was designed by Cedar Rapids architect William J. Brown with Bungalow/Craftsman and Colonial Revival-style architecture.
“It is quite a showplace,” Richard Pankey, a member of the City Planning Commission, said at Thursday’s meeting. “That’s really quite a jewel on First Avenue, so I’m glad they’re taking those steps.”
Nomination of a second building that was recommended for local landmark status is still in limbo. The State Historic Preservation Commission has asked for more documentation on the former Corner Pocket, 301 Second Ave. SW.
Richard Luther, a consultant representing the property owner, said the building was being acquired from the city and the owner would like to use historic tax credits in renovations. Historic tax credits can recoup nearly 50 percent of costs for buildings that qualify.
The property, used as the Corner Pocket bar after the 2008 flood, was built in 1956.
City historian Mark Stoffer Hunter said Lily Printing Company had been in the building since about 1988. It was sold shortly after the flood, renovated and converted into the Corner Pocket by the end of 2010 and later sold again to the city for a buyout.
A previous review determined the property was ineligible for the National Register of
Historic Places, but the building could still be deemed locally significant.
Historic Preservation Commission members approved considering the building for local landmark designation, as a way to demonstrate that a variety of structures could potentially achieve that status.