CEDAR RAPIDS — For more than a century, the Bohemian home on Third Avenue SE has been a story in the making, serving as a connection to the city’s early Czech immigration, with generations of families contributing to its rich history.
As its mysteries continue to be unraveled, the house, at 1257 Third Ave. SE, will begin a new chapter in a new location. Save Cedar Rapids Heritage is having the house moved a few blocks away to 1425 Fifth Ave. SE in Wellington Heights to save it from demolition.
The move — a first-of-its-kind collaborative effort — is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, beginning at 9 a.m. It will likely take 2 to 3 hours to complete.
Aylsworth House Movers of Wadena will transport the house onto Third Avenue SE, turn right onto 14th Street and take a left onto Fifth Avenue, before setting the house next door to its new lot. The house will be transferred to its final site after the foundation is poured.
While crowds are expected to watch the move, Bill Kuba of Cedar Rapids is taking a personal interest.
Kuba’s great-great-uncle was the original owner of the home, built in the late 1800s.
“My great-great-grandparents, Vit and Josephine, came to the United States from Bohemia through Ellis Island,” Kuba said. “They were looking for new opportunities.”
The couple, with their four children, arrived in Cedar Rapids in 1869, said Kuba, who has researched his family’s genealogy.
Vit Kuba, a craftsman, was one of the original members of St. Wenceslaus Church and built the altar at the first church on its site in Cedar Rapids. That church has since been replaced.
Kuba’s great-grandfather, Wencil, and great-great-uncle, John, the long-time owner of the house on Third Avenue, were among Vit and Josephine Kuba’s children.
Both of the brothers worked for the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern (BCR&N) Railway, and later for the Rock Island Railroad, he said.
Vit Kuba died in 1888, while Josephine died in 1917. Both are buried, along with other family members, at the Czech National Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.
Save CR Heritage has dubbed the Third Avenue home the “Frankie House,” in honor of a 3-year-old girl who died in the home in the early years of its history.
According to research conducted by Save CR Heritage board member Esther Wilson, John F. Kuba appears to be the original owner of the home and likely rented the house to its first tenants, Dr. Frank Woitishek and his wife, Josephine.
“When John purchased the property in 1894, it is not clear whether the house was yet constructed,” Wilson said. “We do know that there was one house on the block by the time of an 1889 aerial view of the area, but it can’t be determined whether that was the Kuba house.”
The Woitisheks were living in the home by 1896.
“Based on this information and its architectural style, an approximate construction date can be placed between the mid-1880s and the mid-1890s, making the home among the oldest in the neighborhood, and placing it right on the outskirts of town when it was constructed,” Wilson said.
The Woitisheks’ daughter, Frankie, died there in 1898, likely from an illness.
Dr. Frank Woitishek was acclaimed both for his skill as a doctor and his statistical research. His work led him to the conclusion that, “the infidelity of the Bohemians is the cause of the excessive list of suicides which occur in that race,” a finding that was, “recognized as authority by the leading religious bodies of the United States.”
The Woitisheks lived in the home for a few years, while the house stayed in the Kuba family through 1977 with various renters, including other employees of the railroad.
Residents in the early years were Aden T. Wilson, Grant Mott, S.H. Mix, and F.B. Wood. Starting in 1911, John Kuba lived there with his family. When he died of a stroke at home in 1922, at the age of 57, the house was left to his second wife, Josephine, and his two daughters, Irma and Libbie.
Bill Kuba said John Kuba’s first wife, Anna, died in 1903, one week after their second daughter was born.
Irma lived in the home for a time following her father’s death, while Libbie married Thomas Humphrey in Washington, D.C.
Josephine Kuba continued to reside in the house until her death in 1965. At that time, Libbie sold her share of ownership to her sister and Irma’s husband, Virgil Kendall. They owned the home until 1977, but apparently did not live there by the time ownership passed out of the family.
Libbie and Thomas Humphrey also are buried at Czech National Cemetery in the same family plot as John F. Kuba and both his first wife, Anna, and second wife, Josephine.
City historian Mark Stoffer Hunter noted that the story-and-a-half, two-bedroom home retains its original gingerbread trim and other unique features. The house sits just three doors down from the childhood home of former first lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower.
Both homes are just outside the boundaries of the city’s Second and Third Avenue Local Historic District, so neither is protected from demolition.
Westminster Presbyterian Church bought the Third Avenue house and used it as a rental for more than a decade before deciding to clear the area for green space.
In its first such venture, Save CR Heritage stepped up to move the house, after the city’s Historic Preservation Commission placed a 60-day hold on the demolition.
Members of Westminster Church offered the house for $10 to the nonprofit organization.
The Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association added a key element to make the move feasible when it agreed to provide a lot owned by the association for the house, where one of its community gardens was located.
In return, the Affordable Housing Network Inc. agreed to donate one of its lots at Fourth Avenue and 15th Street SE, which was too small for the house, in exchange for the Wellington Heights lot. Volunteers built raised beds for a new community garden there this summer.
Other community partners include D.W. Zinser Co. of Walford, the demolition company that Westminster had contacted to raze the home. Zinser will backfill the hole once the house is moved to provide the green space that Westminster is seeking. Huber Enterprises has been tending the property in the meantime.
Trees Forever will work with the neighborhood and Westminster to replace two trees that must be removed for the home to make its move. Alliant Energy is offering its services to relocate wires for the move and Fosters Heating & Air Conditioning of Marion is donating a new furnace and air-conditioning system for the house.
AmeriCorps members have been volunteering their time on the project, with assistance from Bob Grafton, a member of Save CR Heritage and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, with Grafton’s business, Advanced Home & Property Services.
The city of Cedar Rapids is also partnering in the project, by agreeing to place the home in its ROOTS program, which qualifies it for special incentives. Once moved, the home will be refurbished and sold.
Save CR Heritage is continuing to fund-raise for the estimated $100,000 cost of the move and restoration work (find a donation button at: www.savecrheritage.org) and is seeking in-kind donations from construction and electrical companies, as well as other businesses and volunteers. The group will also seek historic tax credits for work on the house, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Today the house retains an unusual amount of architectural integrity for such an old structure, at least in part due to its long ownership by a single family that was also in residence for much of the home’s existence.
Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, noted that moving the house nearby will ensure that it stays in use in the neighborhood where it originated, and provide affordable housing for a new family. Using the move as a model, Save CR Heritage will serve as a resource for others interested in saving buildings through relocation.