Historic buildings targeted as string of demolitions blight First Avenue in Cedar Rapids
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – This summer has seen an uptick in the number of historic buildings demolished along First Avenue, with another on the way.
The John M. and Laurel Ely house, 2218 First Ave. NE, constructed in 1916, is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new development.
“It’s one of the last really important historic houses left on First Avenue,” Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter said at a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission when the demolition application was requested in May. “This has a lot of importance to it.”
Stoffer Hunter noted that the home was built a century ago for the newlyweds, the fourth generation of the pioneer Ely family in Cedar Rapids.
Besides the significance of the previous owners, which in itself would make the home eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the house also is a rare example of the Prairie School style architecture in Cedar Rapids, commission member Todd McNall noted.
“There are a few scattered around, but not many,” he said.
Commission members were told the site is being cleared for a dental office. A marketing firm previously used the home for its business. The commission placed a 60-day hold on the demolition, which has since expired. The developer sought to move the house, but could not find a nearby lot to move the large structure.
The Ely house will become the latest in a string of historic buildings demolished along First Avenue. Earlier this summer, Skogman Realty demolished three buildings, including the 1923 Bever Building – named for another Cedar Rapids pioneer family – in the Downtown Historic District.
That site will be used for Skogman’s new headquarters. Even as they tore down the three buildings in the historic district, Skogman is receiving state and local financial incentives for the project, with $750,000 in redevelopment tax credits from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and $800,000 from the city of Cedar Rapids in the form of property tax reimbursement.
A new development in the 1400 block of First Avenue NE also is receiving financial incentives, despite demolishing a former 1890s duplex that was on the Grant Wood walking tour and a candidate for the National Register of Historic Places.
The city agreed to $1.1 million in tax increment financing for the project, which will include a Jimmy John’s and Scooter’s Coffee.
In this instance, with efforts led by Save CR Heritage, Coe College had offered space on its campus to move the building, but the City Council declined to vote on financing to help the college afford the cost of the move and new foundation, in spite of offering incentives to the developer to build on the site. The developer had agreed to the move, but when the council declined to vote on offering financial assistance for the move, decided to proceed with demolition. Most recently used as a fourplex, it was demolished last week and three other buildings will be razed to clear the rest of the land.
Just across the street, in the 1400 block of First Avenue SE and along 15th Street SE, just a half-block outside of a local historic district, more demolitions are underway to make way for another new development.
The former Music Loft, an attached home, three early 1900s homes and the former China Inn were being razed, beginning earlier this month.
Stoffer Hunter noted that the Music Loft was actually combined from three one-story brick storefronts. The corner section was built for Holland Home Bakery in 1924, with McRaith’s ice cream shop and the Cross & Company grocery store added in 1934.
Between the Music Loft and China Inn was a building known as the Baker Apartments, he said.
The home attached to the Music Loft sustained a fire in August when someone broke into the building. The Historic Preservation Commission had only placed a 30-day hold on the buildings, giving very little time to try to move or otherwise save the buildings.
Save CR Heritage was initially allowed to conduct salvage on some of the homes, keeping doors, flooring and other items out of the landfill. The company holding the demolition contract, however, halted salvaging efforts.
Volunteers also salvaged the former duplex at 1408 First Ave. NE. Windows were removed with the possibility of repurposing them in the historic Brewer house in Cedar Rapids and Houser-Metzger Home in Iowa City. The porch railings will be reused in a Grande Avenue home in one of the city’s local historic districts.
I feel that many people are willing to demolish history all for the purpose for lining their pockets with money !!!!!
History is an identity of our humanity as seen in the details that went into the presence of true craftsmanship of sustainable materials used to create su ch beauty as seen in these historical homes. Man has forgotten the beauty of these gems stand for!!!!!
Who pays for fixing them up and keeping them around? People don’t think about that at all when crying about people tearing down buildings to line pockets. Most of these houses are condemned or should be and needing 10’s of thousands of dollars in repairs just to make them not condemned. At the very least they removed salvageable materials for reuse. In the grand scheme of things if people really cared about these properties they wouldn’t wait til they are demolished to show it.
Thank you for your comment, Jack, but you’re making assumptions that are simply untrue. These are all buildings that were functioning and leased or rented, with residents forced to move and find a new place to live or relocate their business. The issue comes down to the city and state providing financial subsidies for “new” and allowing our past to be wiped out with their blessings.
None of them were condemned!
How sad these homes and business buildings were not saved. I drove past and noticed 1408 First Ave. NE was missing just yesterday. Really leaves an empty feeling. I taught at Music Loft for ten years. Spent many hours in that building.
Thanks for your note, Brook. It’s definitely been an empty feeling kind of summer.
The question always seems to be, what can be done? Is it the position of Save CR Heritage that the city council uses the incentives available to it more to encourage development than to award preservation? If this is so, are there ongoing efforts to educate council members and advocate policy changes? Are council candidates regularly questioned, and graded, regarding their understanding of, and commitment to, historic preservation? And if the problem is not a matter of council action (or inaction), then where does it lie? I’m not trying to be difficult here … just wondering what kind of concrete change people are hoping to see ….
Those are excellent points, and yes, we have been advocating for change and awareness regarding these properties and others. That includes writing to the City Council and boards, speaking at various council meetings, hosting tours of historic buildings and meeting with public officials, for example, as we did at the historic tax credit tour at CSPS. Ultimately, we would like to see incentives to incorporate historic properties in these developments, as we see historic buildings as amenities that don’t impede progress, but are important to our community’s future, as you’re well aware!
This is the nature of our society. It always has been.
Look at the words we use. “Developer” and “development,” as though there was nothing there. When the white men strode into this area, they saw not a beautiful place to live, but resources for them to exploit in the course of enriching themselves.
We believe that making money is some sort of spiritual pursuit, a God-given right, and even a mandate. Even modest conservation efforts need to be incentivized so that we save things like native prairie for “future generations,” rather than to preserve them because they should be there.
The recent “nature center” at Indian Creek that destroyed a native prairie is a case in point. That had nothing to do with preserving nature and everything to do with making money for a certain set of individuals.
The stuff they’re tearing down shows that these money-minded individuals have contempt even for their own short history. This scabrous behavior is right in line with everything the European hordes have always done here. Snatch and grab with no concern for anything but short-term gain.
It’s disgusting, sure, but it’s everywhere, and short of pandemic, famine, or atomic war is not likely to change any time soon.
Thank you for your insight!
For a dental office?? Oh perfect. That Ely home is rock-solid and a terrific specimen of prairie school architecture. I worked there for years when it was MCS. What a shame. They should at least let someone do architectural salvage…the woodwork is amazing!
How can I contact someone regarding this property? Thank you.
Tracy – these have all been demolished, unfortunately.