History at risk after Iowa’s hurricane-strength derecho
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
Among the casualties stemming from the Aug. 10 derecho that ravaged Iowa with hurricane-force straightline winds was Willis Dady Works, a forthcoming project that would combine workforce training with supportive housing in a century-old brick warehouse.
The project would have offered a first-floor employment hub and 14 apartments for individuals and families leaving homelessness on the second floor of the historic Chandler Pump building in northwest Cedar Rapids.
Now, the storm that killed three people and left some Iowans jobless and homeless has also left the Willis Dady Works project in limbo, after winds of up to 140 mph wiped out nearly the entire second floor.
“It’s probably pretty much toast,” said Scott Olson, a Cedar Rapids City Council member who was serving as volunteer project coordinator to bring together the construction team and funding for the $3 million project.
The team had already secured an $800,000 grant from the Hall-Perrine Foundation; $50,000 each from Linn County and the city of Cedar Rapids, along with other donations and more than $400,000 in brownfield tax credits.
“We were close,” Olson said of what would have been the announcement in August and start of the project.
He noted that the programs will continue in some form, but survival of the building is in doubt as the owner’s insurance company and structural engineers make post-storm assessments.
While many of the buildings decimated by Iowa’s derecho were modern apartments or businesses, several other historical buildings, like the Chandler Pump Co., sustained damage in Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities.
Typically, buildings 50 years and older undergo review by the Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission when the owner seeks a demolition permit. That process, however, was waived after the derecho.
“Due to the city-wide scope of the storm, the City is still in the process of assessing structures for damage,” city planner Adam Lindenlaub wrote in an email. “A placarding process was put into place to determine the properties that have been deemed unsafe to live in. The City has begun to analyze the damage that occurred to our Local Historic Districts and Local Landmarks and we estimate that will take two to three weeks.”
Lindenlaub cited an Aug. 25 mayoral proclamation that temporarily waived the demolition review and approval process for all structures not located in the Local Historic Districts or that are a Local Historic Landmark.
“These will be documented as they occur and, at this time, the waiver lasts until January 1st, 2021,” he wrote. “To be clear, any demolition requests in the Local Historic Districts or of Local Historic Landmarks are considered Certificates of Appropriateness (COA) and will continue to be reviewed by HPC. Unlike the potential delay of demolitions elsewhere in the city, COAs for demolition are either approved or denied by HPC. HPC does not normally review demolitions ordered due to safety concerns and that has not been changed.”
Lindenlaub added that the city has not allocated any funding toward private property repairs, outside of the City’s Historic Rehabilitation Program and the property owner’s insurance coverage and FEMA Individual Assistance. Iowa has limited emergency grants through its Historical Resource Development Program.
Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter cited the Redemption Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Cedar Rapids among buildings of concern.
The roof of the church blew into a neighboring yard during the derecho, completely exposing the interior of the building, constructed in 1910 for the Czech Evangelical and Reformed Church.
Church pastor Harmon Webb died in June at age 95 after leading the congregation for decades, leaving the disposition of the building uncertain, Stoffer Hunter added.
Other buildings of concern include the last remaining stone building of the Sinclair meatpacking plant and St. Wenceslaus Church school gym building, both in southeast Cedar Rapids.
One end of the 1880’s stone warehouse crumbled in the storm, but advocates say enough of the timbers and stones remain to reconstruct the building, which is privately owned and had not been insured.
Nearby, the roof of the 1926-built St. Wenceslaus Glovik Parish Center was torn off by the derecho. St. Wenceslaus Church itself, a Czech national parish, sustained some damage, including the protective glass that saved a stained glass window.
Windows were blown out of Cafe St. Pio in Czech Village, housed in a historic bank building in Czech Village, where customers and staff rode out the storm in the bank vault.
Another iconic Czech building, the 1900-built former Czech School located in New Bohemia, survived the storm, but bricks from its addition littered the sidewalk in front of the building after the derecho. The building is privately owned and used for Winifred’s Catering.
Many buildings of the 26-acre historic Brucemore estate sustained damage in southeast Cedar Rapids, with an estimated 70 percent of trees lost.
Similarly, all of the Cedar Rapids School District’s 30 school buildings sustained at least some damage, with numerous trees uprooted, broken off or otherwise mutilated by the strong winds.
The scenes were similar in neighboring Marion, where the Granger House Victorian Museum and several buildings in the city’s historic downtown were damaged in the derecho.
Vicki Noah, vice president of the Granger House board, said there was no doubt that the Victorian Italianate home — built in 1848 with a later addition — would be restored after losing its roof, ornate exterior wood pieces and other portions of the historic grounds, including numerous trees.
“It could’ve been worse, so we’re grateful and thankful,” Noah said, adding that she hopes other historical homes and businesses would be able to rebound. “I hope it all comes back. There’s a value in keeping them.”
The last Save CR Heritage Museum Meetup before the coronavirus pandemic was in Marion, at the Marion Heritage Center, the nearby Marion Masonic Temple and Zoey’s Pizzeria, all of which were damaged in the derecho. See photos from the meetup, and more derecho-damaged buildings, below.