Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
CEDAR RAPIDS – In 1961, the landmark Union Depot was demolished in Cedar Rapids to make way for downtown parking. Fifty-one years later, despite efforts by proponents to save it, First Christian Church was razed for parking in the city’s medical district.
Last year’s demolition of the historic church, at 840 Third Ave. SE, marked the formal beginning of an organization created to prevent further losses of the city’s cultural treasures. That group, Save CR Heritage, plans to mark the anniversary with a commemoration beginning at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, 2013.
Supporters are asked to wear white to symbolize a new beginning and meet at the corner of Third Avenue and 10th Street SE, near where the church once stood.
Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, pointed to the non-profit group’s accomplishments during the past year.
A September showcase of commercial buildings slated for demolition in the Kingston and New Bohemia neighborhoods resulted in finding developers for about one dozen sites, she said.
The group successfully advocated for saving homes near St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, after a developer proposed a housing complex in the city’s Second and Third Avenue Historic District.
Save CR Heritage also has worked on historic tax credit legislation and advocated for preserving the B Avenue NE fire station.
Some efforts remain under way, including preservation of the Luther Brewer house, now owned by Mercy Medical Center; exploring options for the nomination of Automobile Row to the National Register of Historic Places and looking for a buyer for the former Free Methodist Church at G Avenue and Eighth Street NW. The group’s ongoing “heart bomb” campaign draws attention to historic buildings with giant heart banners.
Save CR Heritage raised more than $25,000 in an effort to save the nearly century-old First Christian Church last year and staged daily “funeral” demonstrations to call attention to the pending loss. The city also was prepared to contribute $300,000 toward the renovation of the building for offices or other reuse.
Renowned architect Louis Sullivan was a consultant on the church, dedicated in 1913, with stained-glass windows created by glass artist Louis Millet.
St. Luke’s Hospital, which bought the church as part of the site for the Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa medical mall, had the windows removed before demolition.
Some of the windows were placed in the new PCI medical mall, which recently held an open house for a master plan for the city’s medical district, known as MedQuarter. Already, part of Second Avenue was closed off and more than a dozen buildings have been demolished to make way for new medical offices and parking in the district.
“The MedQ has a logo (and) has demo’d many, many historic buildings,” Vaclav Hasek, a board member of Save CR Heritage said. “But (they) are just now getting around to a community charrette to enquire what the neighborhood might like to see in the CR Medical District.”
Hasek noted that economic development and historic preservation are not mutually exclusive.
Supporters are welcome to participate in Wednesday’s commemoration of First Christian Church’s demolition, beginning at 4:30 p.m. May 29 at 10th Street and Third Avenue SE, and are invited to attend the next board meeting of Save CR Heritage.
The meeting will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 6, at CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE.
For more information, see Save CR Heritage’s website or find the group on Facebook.