Early 1900s home saved in Cedar Rapids will honor memory of beloved board member
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A 1905-era home will be saved from demolition to serve as the first-time headquarters for Save CR Heritage.
Most recently known as the Teacher Store, the home at 606 Fifth Ave. SE, will be known as the J.E. Halvorson House in honor of John Erik Halvorson, a board member who was killed when his car was struck while on his way to work in March 2020. The other driver was arrested and charged with homicide by vehicle-operating under the influence.
Halvorson was 32 and considered a shining star in Save CR Heritage; an insightful person who could devise a way to transform even the most challenging feats into doable projects. He and his wife, Nikki Halvorson, both board members and passionate preservationists, donated countless hours to saving pieces of Cedar Rapids history, and beyond, through their volunteer work.
Mercy Cedar Rapids owned the Fifth Avenue home, located next to Kathy’s Pies, but did not have plans for the building after the Teacher Store relocated more than two years ago.
With a roof that needs replacement and porch that is sagging, Mercy considered demolition before Save CR Heritage board members approached hospital officials about moving the structure, built around 1905 as a single-family home.
Save CR Heritage, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the value of older buildings, previously moved the “Frankie House,” a late-1800s home in Wellington Heights that was later sold to a family as affordable housing.
Citing their commitment to sustainability, Mercy officials agreed to sell the house to Save CR Heritage for $1, with a 3-year lease on the land. The house will eventually be relocated, but in the meantime, Save CR Heritage board members and volunteers will be making repairs on the home before using it for meetings, workshops and sales of architectural salvage items the group has saved from other buildings destined for demolition.
Save CR Heritage will seek in-kind and monetary donations for the roof, heating system, plumbing, paint and other needs. Updates will be posted to Save CR Heritage’s Facebook page.
Given its long history, the home’s original staircase is surprisingly intact, while a back staircase leads to a small servant’s quarters.
Research by Nikki Halvorson, who continues as Save CR Heritage board secretary, shows the home first appeared in a city directory in January 1906, when it was listed as vacant.
Its first inhabitants, Thomas B.F. and Edith L. Leinbaugh, were listed in the January 1907 directory. Thomas worked as a clerk for the Railway Mail Service. The Leinbaughs lived there through 1920.
“Saving 606 Fifth Ave. SE is so important when you consider it is one of only three houses that still survive on Fifth Avenue SE,” said Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter, citing the five-block stretch of the avenue between the train tracks and 10th Street. In 1925, this same area had 60 houses.
Stoffer Hunter’s research shows Constantine Kutrules and his wife Frances were the second family to call 606 Fifth Ave. SE home, with a listing in the 1922 city directory, when they operated a grocery store across the street at 601 Fifth Ave. SE. The grocery store building, at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street SE, was demolished in the mid-1980s, replaced by an electrical utility substation that is now gone.
By 1925, Constantine, listed as “Gus,” worked as a barber for the barber shop owned by James Geist, and the couple no longer operated the grocery store. The Geist barber shop in 1931 was located at 202 Fourth St. SE, on the ground floor of the old Lincoln Hotel facing the train tracks.
Sadly, Stoffer Hunter notes that in 1933, Frances was listed as a widow.
In 1935, Mrs. Lura Bucklin, a practicing nurse, is listed as living at 606 Fifth Avenue SE, along with Lynn, Bernard and Velma Bucklin. Velma was working as a cashier at the Rialto Theatre.
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From 1936 to 1937, Joseph Zavoral, a yardman at the Wilson packing house, and his wife, Golda, lived in the home, and from 1938-1941, Fred Stewart and his wife, Belle, lived there. In 1938, Fred is listed as an usher at the Rialto Theatre, and the next year he apparently was promoted to assistant manager.
Stoffer Hunter said the Rialto Theatre is infamous in downtown Cedar Rapids history. It was located at 310 First Ave. NE, where the front door to the Doubletree Hotel at the Alliant Energy Powerhouse Center is located today.
The Rialto Theatre was famous for being the cheapest movie theater downtown, he said, with admission usually about 10 to 25 cents. The Rialto ran until about 1953 and was renamed the Town Theatre in its later years.
In 1942, George and Edna Bell are listed as living at 606 Fifth Ave. SE. George was a laborer at the Williams & Hunting factory.
Later occupants of 606 Fifth Ave. SE were the Fowler family, who lived there at least from 1945 to 1960. In 1953, Gerald Fowler was a salesman for Colonial Bakery, Stoffer Hunter said, convenient since the bakery was located just two blocks away at Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street SE.
In later years, the home was a rental and in more recent history, the building was converted to commercial use, serving as a gift shop called The Laughing Lilac from 2003 to 2004. The Teacher Store became operational in 2009, offering free classroom supplies to area educators, and was located at 606 Fifth Ave. SE through early 2018.
Stoffer Hunter noted that the large home next door at 600 Fifth Ave. SE was demolished in 2007. In addition to 606 Fifth Ave. SE, homes at 525 and 820 Fifth Ave. SE still survive in place, he said.
Save CR Heritage will use the home as a headquarters for meetings and workshops on topics such as window restoration and passive flooring rehabilitation, offering homeowners hands-on experience in saving those items, rather than replacing with cheap alternatives and sending the original components to the landfill.
The group also will use the J.E. Halvorson House as a site to connect local homeowners in the Cedar Rapids area to high quality, low-cost doors, flooring, millwork and other items volunteers have salvaged from older buildings to use in the upkeep of their own homes. The top priority of Save CR Heritage is to keep older buildings in place for adaptive reuse. When that is not possible, the group has advocated for moving buildings and as a last resort, salvages homes that are destined for demolition.
Trained volunteers have saved hundreds of pounds from the landfill in the form of vintage wooden doors, windows, sinks, clawfoot tubs, hardwood flooring and staircase balustrades, complete with spindles, rails and newel posts.
Save CR Heritage hopes to have repairs completed and the J.E. Halvorson House open by this fall.
Anyone interested in donating or volunteering can send an email to: SaveCRHeritage (at) gmail.com