CEDAR RAPIDS – Despite last-minute efforts to save it, an iconic building that connects the New Bohemia district to Czech Village is destined for the wrecking ball.
The Hach Building, 1326 Second St. SE, which operated as the South Side Tap before the floods of 2008, could be razed as soon as October. Although the building is in a historic district, that designation offers no protection from demolition.
Owner Leon “Tunnie” Melsha took out a demolition permit last week after the city issued a notice and order to demolish. Melsha, who also owns the neighboring Little Bohemia tavern, purchased the Hach Building after the flood, but did nothing to restore it.
The city’s Historic Preservation Commission placed a 60-day hold on the demolition at its meeting Thursday, in hopes that items can be salvaged.
Commission member Mark Stoffer Hunter said the building is the last in Cedar Rapids with both the date of construction – 1901 – and the name of the building on its cornice.
“It’s architecturally unique,” said Stoffer Hunter, who is also a member of Save CR Heritage. “This is key – the gateway building to New Bo from Czech Village.”
Save CR Heritage worked for an alternative to demolition after learning about the city’s notice in late July.
Robert Hach Jr., of Cedar Rapids, a descendant of Peter Hach, who constructed the saloon and bottling works in 1901, offered to buy the building and restore it.
Melsha was not open to offers, however, and chose to hire a contractor to demolish the building after the city issued the order. An owner can decide to demolish a building unless there is a local landmark designation, which the New Bohemia District does not have.
The Hach Building is one of the remaining “contributing” structures – those with architectural significance – in the historic district, which saw dozens of homes and businesses demolished after the flood.
Another contributing structure, the South Side Civic Club, which later became a Moose Lodge and most recently was Cedar Rapids Tent & Awning, 1207 Second St. SE, is also scheduled to be demolished.
“You lose that (Hach) building and you have blocks that are vacant with no historic material,” said Maura Pilcher, vice president of Save CR Heritage and president of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District.
Diagonally across the street, the former Globe Grocery, 131 14th Ave. SE, was destroyed by fire last year, just after the city approved a move by preservation groups to save the structure.
Save CR Heritage member Lance LeTellier, an engineer, said the Hach Building likely could be restored despite a foundation wall that is beginning to collapse.
Thomas Smith, staff liaison for the Historic Preservation Commission, noted that the site had been inspected numerous times by the city during the past year.
“Staff has spoken to the owner over this course of time about the repair of the structure,” Smith wrote in an email. “At one point the owner had indicated the desire to repair the structure, however, that did not occur and no formal plans have been submitted.”
Smith said throughout the past 30 days, staff discussed all of Melsha’s options with him, including repairing, moving or selling the structure. He indicated a desire to retain the property, but no desire to repair the structure or sell the property, Smith said.
Because Melsha originally had indicated he wanted to repair the building, he was not ordered to secure it or fined for failing to maintain the building.
Smith noted that in some cases, the city provides orders to the owner to secure structures. In order to secure a structure, a hearing officer or judge has to give the authority for the city to do so.
In this case, Smith said that portions of the building are deteriorating and securing the structure is not a method to stop further future failure.
The City has full authority to order a property owner to bring structures into compliance. Chapter 29 of the Property Maintenance Code gives the city authority to act to remedy a structure compliant with code, up to and including demolition.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Hach Building replaced an earlier building that held a shoe store. The Hach Building originally housed a saloon and bottling works on the first floor and a residence for Peter Hach and his wife, Frances, and their family on the upper level.
Three of the Hach sons eventually joined the family business including Edward, Peter Jr., and William. After the establishment of state prohibition, the business became a bottler of soft drinks and incorporated a bowling alley into the former saloon. William Hach eventually built a residence next door for his family at 1314 Second St. SE.
The National Register documents note that during the 1930s after national prohibition ended, the business returned to operation as a tavern. The business continued through the early 1940s with members of the Hach family serving in leadership positions in the South Side Commercial Club, an organization that promoted civic and commercial betterment efforts.