CEDAR RAPIDS — Fans of Linn County history braved the cold for a post-Valentine’s Day Friday Night Meetup at the new site of The History Center, followed by dinner at Phong Lan Vietnamese Restaurant in the Automobile Row Historic District.
The meetups, launched last year by Save CR Heritage, meld history with networking for preservation advocates.
Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter gave a mini tour of The History Center, 800 Second Ave. SE, to nearly 20 members and friends of Save CR Heritage.
Built for the George B. Douglas family around 1897, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the last surviving homes in the “Mansion Hill” neighborhood.
Caroline Sinclair, the first owner of the Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, swapped homes with the Douglas family in 1906, so her family could live in the city and the Douglasses moved to what was then the countryside off of First Avenue SE.
From 1924 to 1935, Grant Wood lived next to the Douglas Mansion above a carriage house at 5 Turner Alley, where he painted “American Gothic” among other works.
Stoffer Hunter noted that the Turner family, who operated a funeral home in the mansion at the time, allowed Wood to live in the carriage house for free and bought many of his paintings, allowing him to concentrate on his art fulltime.
Wood contributed several of the design elements of the mansion, including a large stained glass bay window on the first floor.
The History Center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and also offers special events, such as popular walking tours led by Stoffer Hunter, and a library where the public can conduct research, which is free for members. The center accepts donations of photos and other items that relate to the history of Linn County.
Phong Lan Vietnamese Restaurant, 216 Eighth St. SE, just a short distance from The History Center, is located in a former auto repair shop, built around 1921.
The building is a contributing structure — those with historical integrity or significant architectural qualities — in the Auto Row Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the district’s nomination, the building was constructed for Morgan Krabbenhoft & Morgan, an automotive repair shop, which was the occupant through 1926, followed by a series of other auto repair businesses, including Unzeitig Motor from 1931 to 1934 and John Blaul’s & Sons from 1947 to 1954. By the 1960s, retail-driven companies used the space.
The Auto Row Historic District runs along Second Avenue SE, between Sixth and Seventh streets, and Third Avenue SE, between Seventh and Eighth streets. The nomination notes that the growth of the automobile industry helped transform Cedar Rapids into the second largest city in Iowa by the mid-20th Century. The Lincoln Highway was routed onto Second Avenue around 1920, fueling the growth of businesses to service automobiles traveling the road from New York to California.