Save CR Heritage announces collaborative effort to save historic home
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – Once destined for demolition, a home built more than a century ago for a Cedar Rapids doctor and his wife will have a second chance in a new location, thanks to a unique collaboration.
In a first-of-its-kind effort, Save Cedar Rapids Heritage will move the historic house, at 1257 Third Ave. SE, to a site just blocks away in Wellington Heights.
“This collaboration will save an overlooked gem in the Wellington Heights neighborhood,” said Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage. “Moving the house nearby will ensure that it stays in use in the neighborhood where it originated, and provide affordable housing for a new family.”
Save CR Heritage announced the initiative during a news conference on Wednesday, May 13, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1285 Third Ave. SE.
When Westminster officials found they could no longer afford upkeep on the home, which the church bought more than a decade ago, they took out a demolition permit with the intention of creating green space. Members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission put a 60-day hold on the demolition, in hopes of finding an alternative.
The home, built around 1895, sits just three doors down from the childhood home of former first lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Cedar Rapids historian, Mark Stoffer Hunter, a member of Save CR Heritage, notes that the story-and-a half, two-bedroom home was one of the first constructed on the block, and still retains its original gingerbread trim and other architectural features, making it historically significant.
Members of Save CR Heritage decided the home would provide an ideal model of preservation through relocation and, led by board member Emily Meyer, jumped into efforts to study the costs involved.
The efforts, however, were hampered by the lack of an available vacant lot in the neighborhood.
At that time, a request was made to the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, which provided the key element that would make the move feasible.
Wellington Heights agreed to provide a lot owned by the association at 1425 Fifth Ave. SE, the location of one of its community gardens. In return, the Affordable Housing Network Inc. agreed to donate one of its lots at Fourth Avenue and 15th Street SE, which was too small for the house, in exchange for the Wellington Heights lot. The neighborhood association will plant a new garden there this spring.
“This was a difficult decision for us,” said Justin Wasson, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, noting that the longtime garden was a favorite for the group. “But this was the perfect lot for this house and it will fit into the character of the neighborhood.”
“AHNI also rose to the occasion, offering their lot without hesitation,” DeBoom added.
The sacrifice by the two organizations became a critical turning point for the project to proceed.
At the same time, as the 60-day hold expired, Jan Kosowski, who sits on the Westminster Building Committee, kept the option of saving the house open. The church agreed to hold off on demolition so details of the proposed move could be arranged, and also offered the house for a nominal fee of $10, if the move proved feasible.
Those elements provided enough impetus to move forward with the project and to seek yet another collaboration, this time from what might appear to be an unusual alliance.
D.W. Zinser Co. of Walford, the demolition company that Westminster had contacted to raze the home, was asked to donate its services, but not for demolition purposes.
Owner David Zinser agreed to backfill the hole once the house is moved to provide the green space that Westminster is seeking.
The partnerships will make the move more affordable, Save CR Heritage’s Meyer said, but much work remains.
Once the house is moved, after the foundation is poured, the house will be renovated and will eventually be sold. Community partners are being sought to help in those efforts.
Save CR Heritage will seek historic tax credits to offset the expenses and is contributing its own assets toward the move. Cost of the move itself is estimated at $20,000, with about $10,000 for the foundation and $80,000 for renovations, including a new roof.
To help meet those expenses, Save CR Heritage is launching a fundraising campaign.
In addition to applying for grants from local and state sources, the nonprofit is seeking donations from supporters. The “Frankie House,” campaign is named for a child who died of illness in the home more than a century ago.
Newspaper archives show the home originally belonged to Dr. Frank Woitishek and his wife, Josephine. Frank was the son of Linn County pioneer Joseph Woitishek, who became a merchant and grain dealer in Ely after emigrating to the United States from Bohemia.
Frank Woitishek’s sisters were prominent Cedar Rapids club women; one was a teacher and one managed her father’s farms. Frank Woitishek was recognized for his research into the high number of suicides among Bohemians in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.
The Woitisheks’ 4-year-old child, Frankie, died in the house in 1898. A newspaper notice cited illness in the family, noting that the funeral would be private.
The Frankie House fundraising efforts are named in honor of the child and to recognize the history of the home, DeBoom said.
Save CR Heritage wants this grassroots project to serve as a model for moving other buildings in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area, she said, which will result in environmental savings by repurposing existing structures to extend the life of their use and conserve natural resources.
Despite the costs, DeBoom said the move fits perfectly with the group’s mission of saving historic resources by developing preservation and reuse strategies, as well as raising awareness of the value of historic properties in strengthening the community, conserving resources, fostering economic development and enriching lives.