CEDAR RAPIDS – Moments like this give preservation advocates hope.
Nearly 150 people crowded along First Avenue to hear historian Mark Stoffer Hunter during the Save CR Heritage “Hidden Homes” walking tour on Friday, July 26.
Stoffer Hunter explained the origins of the homes “hidden” behind storefronts along First Avenue and more about the history of residential and commercial landmarks on the fast-changing stretch of Cedar Rapids.
Save CR Heritage has been raising awareness of at-risk historic properties in Cedar Rapids since 2012. Help continue this important educational and advocacy work by donating here. We can’t do it without you!
The tour began at Stewart Baxter Funeral & Memorial Services, 1844 First Ave. SE, where attendees were able to see inside.
Built in 1908 as a home for the Dunshee family, it was converted to a funeral home 50 years later.
Save CR Heritage planned the tour as a way to highlight historic buildings that still exist, such as the funeral home, but to also call attention to those that have been lost.
Last year saw a surge in the number of historic buildings demolished to make way for new construction, including several along First Avenue.
Following are some of the landmarks along the tour route and more photos, below, from the Hidden Homes Walking Tour:
Dunshee family home/Stewart Baxter, 1844 First Ave. NE: Built in 1908 as a home for the Dunshee family, it was converted to a funeral home in 1958, now known as Stewart Baxter Funeral & Memorial Services. It still retains original woodwork, including pocket doors, ornate newel post and staircase.
First Avenue Apartments, 1834 First Ave. NE: This spot was originally the home of dentist L.J. Walter and his wife Delilah, from about 1886-1937. It was replaced by the now 20-unit apartment building in 1938. The building retains its original interior design, including hardwood floors in the apartments.
Brownstone Building/Lumore Apartments, 1630 First Ave. NE: Original owner Lucius Sheppard decided if Brucemore could feature part of George Bruce Douglas’ name, then his building should feature part of his name, so this was called the “Lumore” Apartments for years. Built in 1922, its first residents included Anna & Lucius E. Sheppard, president of the Order of Railway Conductors of America; Mrs. Minnie M. Shinkle; Laura & Sidney P. Moore, president and general manager, Builders Material Company; Emma P. & James H. Noble, office manager, Rich Bros.; Jane & Rush S. Damuth, sales, Cherry Co. and Isadore M. & Laura Lobenstein, real estate, the Hedges Company.
Shomler home/apartments, 118 16th St. NE: First inhabitants of this home, circa 1907-1908, appear to be Charles E. and Flora Shomler. Charles worked as a druggist at 229 S. Second St. The house, now used as apartments, resonates with Save CR Heritage, as it bears similarities to the 1890s fourplex at 1408 First Ave. NE, which the group tried to save, though recent renovations have added siding and covered some of the notable architectural elements. The fourplex on First Avenue was on the Mound View Neighborhood Grant Wood walking tour and was demolished to make way for new development, one of a number of demolitions along First Avenue in 2018.
Grant Wood dentist office, 1508 First Ave. NE: Dr. Byron McKeeby was the model for the farmer in artist Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. In the early 1900s, the Cedar Rapids dentist had his office on the upper floor of this commercial site, built in 1902. He later moved his office to the third floor of the Guaranty Bank Building in downtown Cedar Rapids, but returned here before retiring in the mid-1940s.
Van Tassel home/Shawnie’s/Pizza Daddy, 1539 First Ave. SE: First inhabitants of this home, circa 1906, were likely George and Jennie Van Tassel. George worked as a conductor for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway. The retail space was added in front of the home in 1934 and now houses Shawnie’s Beauty Bar and Pizza Daddy.
Besler family home/apartments, 1543 First Ave. SE: This brick home was built in 1901 for Henry Besler. An immigrant at age 18 who escaped Prussian militarism from Posner, Germany, Besler helped build the downtown Grand Hotel and Waterhouse building, later becoming a street contractor who laid the first brick streets in Cedar Rapids. The family started a local brick-making business after tiring of waiting for Purington bricks to be shipped from Illinois. Besler died at home in 1921 and the house is currently privately owned and occupied.
Cameron home/Tasha’s, 1569 First Ave. SE: The first inhabitants of the home, circa 1895-1899, appear to be Simon P. and Christiana Cameron. Simon worked as an engineer for the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad. Tasha’s Hair Salon currently occupies the retail space, built in 1959, while the home is used for apartments.
Fantastic. Good work.! Thanks for all you do!
Nice turn-out for the walking tour, Cindy. I’d have been on it except I knew it was a mile long and my knees couldn’t take it. One additional note about the Stewart Baxter funeral home at 1844 First Ave. NE. In the mid 1950s I played on that beautiful veranda and inside the house too because it was the home of my grandmother Alma Steggall. She kept it as a nursing home called The Good Samaritan and took care of patients there upstairs, cooking their meals in the downstairs kitchen. Her three daughters helped her. My aunt, the late Patricia Steggall Hanson had her wedding reception there in 1955.
Thank you so much for your message! I had no idea the building had been used for that, too. What wonderful memories! Thank you for sharing them.
I was a close personal friend of James Stewart in the early ’70s. He gave me and my friend Craig Bex a personal tour of the funeral home. The first and only time I had seen the embalming room. Visited with his Father and friends upstairs in their living quarters. Good memories. Jim attended my wedding in 1976.
Thanks for sharing your memories, Steven!