Historic Brewer House in Cedar Rapids to be relocated
CEDAR RAPIDS –A Cedar Rapids couple hopes the New Year brings a new start in a decidedly old house.
Dawn Stephens and her husband, Greg Young, plan to have the historic Brewer House moved to a lot in the Oak Hill Jackson Neighborhood of southeast Cedar Rapids, potentially in the coming month.
The building, at 847 Fourth Ave. SE, is on the National Register of Historic Places, but has been vacant since it was purchased by Mercy Medical Center in 2011.
At that time, Mercy had no plans for the property, which was being used as a four-plex apartment. The hospital has since boarded up the building and advocates worried that the home faced the same future as neighboring houses, many of which were demolished in the 1970s.
A listing on the National Register offers no protection from demolition. For example, the former Peoples Church, built in 1875 at 600 Third Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, was razed in 2011 to make way for a new office building.
Named for its original owners, the Brewer House was constructed in 1897 and, now surrounded by parking lots, is the last home on that side of Fourth Avenue’s “mansion hill.”
“This is where our hearts are and our passion: old homes,” Stephens said. “If you take really good care of this, it could ‘live’ another 100 years.”
Stephens found out about the house in her role as resource coordinator for the Oak Hill Jackson Resource Center. The neighborhood borders Mercy Medical Center.
She and Young, a Rockwell Collins employee who serves as secretary of the Oak Hill Jackson Neighborhood Association, have been interested in buying a home in the area.
As soon as she saw the house, Stephens knew she wanted to live there, but Mercy wanted the building moved.
The process of finding a mortgage lender, entering into an agreement with Mercy and other procedures has taken more than a year. In the meantime, the two sold the house in which they were living and now rent an apartment. Their two daughters are adults who no longer live at home.
Originally, the couple intended to fix up the building as-is, but a meeting with an expert on the home’s designer – well-known local architect Charles Dieman – changed those plans.
Galen Wenger, a historian of early Cedar Rapids architecture, showed Young and Stephens early photos and Dieman’s original floor plan of the house.
The house is one of Dieman’s earliest designs in Cedar Rapids and one of the few early ones to survive, according to documents for the National Register nomination.
“When we got those floor plans from Galen, that was a really important moment,” Stephens said. “We knew it’s not going to be as simple as we thought. It’s going to be much more interesting.”
The two had experience restoring homes in the Wellington Heights neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids and as soon as they were given clearance from Mercy, began returning the four-plex to its original state.
They have been carefully dismantling wood trimwork before pulling off plaster to remove walls that were added to the home, which features high ceilings, original fireplaces and hardwood floors.
Young also has been researching the history of Luther Brewer.
Luther Brewer was city editor of the Cedar Rapids Republican, an early competitor to what was then called The Evening Gazette, and owner of the Torch Press publishing house.
He also wrote the 1911 “History of Linn County” with Barthinius Wick.
Brewer, an avid book collector, and his wife, Elinore, helped found the first public library in Cedar Rapids.
President William Howard Taft, Brewer’s friend, made numerous visits to the home; one of the reasons the building was listed on the National Register in 1998. Both Brewer and his wife died in 1933.
Through documents at The History Center containing interviews of people who had been in the house at that time, the couple believe they know which bedroom Taft used on those visits.
They plan to maintain the historic integrity of the house, which includes a 1910 addition, and Young has started collecting Torch Press books that will be displayed in the home’s library.
“I thought, Luther Brewer loved books so much,” said Young, who is also a history buff and collector. “What better place to showcase a published collection of books by his company.”
Much work remains to be completed, including the relocation of the home about 10 blocks away to the lot the couple purchased in the 600 block of 10th Avenue SE.
Young and Stephens hope the move – by Goodwin House Moving of Washington, Iowa – will happen sometime in January, though no date has been set.
State and federal historic tax credits will allow them to recoup nearly half of the cost of the move and restoration.
They hired Charles Jones, who had a building moved from the Cedar Rapids medical district, to advise them on the process and local expert Ruth Fox to apply for the tax credits.
Mercy representatives have been supportive, they said, and the hospital is donating what would have been the cost of demolition toward the move.
Still, the process is expensive, with moving costs of $37,000, not including a new foundation, tree removal and other expenses. Lowering utility wires could cost another $10,000, something the couple wish the city would help fund, but Cedar Rapids does not provide assistance in moving buildings.
“I wish that everyone was as persistent as they have been,” said Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage. “They are preservationists, so I know the house couldn’t be in better hands.”
DeBoom also credited Mercy for its role in sparing the historic home from demolition, a fate met by buildings owned by other entities in the medical district in recent years.
“Our intention was always to find the right owner for this historic property and we are thrilled that Dawn and Greg have purchased the home with plans to restore it to its previous grandeur,” Mercy president and CEO Tim Charles said. “We are pleased to be a partner in this historic preservation effort that will surely be enjoyed by the community for years to come.”
Young and Stephens believe the end result will be worth the effort.
“One word to describe this whole experience is serendipitous,” Stephens said. “It’s all about things happening at the right time. Even if things haven’t felt right, it’s all led us here.”