Save CR Heritage shines spotlight on hidden homes and other historical buildings in upcoming tour
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
Last year saw a surge in the number of historic buildings demolished in Cedar Rapids, including many along First Avenue, a main thoroughfare through the city.
Before more of this swath of Cedar Rapids disappears, Save CR Heritage will highlight buildings still standing in the area of First Avenue between 19th and 15th Street East during a unique walking tour on Friday, July 26, 2019.
Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter will lead the “Hidden Homes” tour starting at 6 p.m. from Stewart Baxter Funeral & Memorial Services, 1844 First Ave. NE, and if circumstances permit, the owners of Stewart Baxter will allow a tour inside their historic building, as well.
The building was constructed in 1908 as a home for the Dunshee family and converted to a funeral home in 1958. It still retains its original woodwork, including pocket doors, an ornate newel post and staircase.
Photos of Frank Monahan, the original owner of the funeral home, and others connected to the business, are displayed inside.
“We believe in keeping the legacy going,” said co-owner Scott Greenman. “Our hope is that it’s always here.”
Stoffer Hunter noted that the building, and Brucemore, at 2160 Linden Dr. NE, are the last two mansions standing in this area of the city, where country estates flourished at one time.
Some homes built in the 1890s are still standing in the 1500 block of First Avenue, with storefronts added to their front sides.
“This was all residential,” Stoffer Hunter said, “before the automobile came along and they saw the value of putting commercial in there.”
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The storefronts were added in the 1920s to 1940s and shop owners would often live behind their stores.
One such business was the Holland Home Bakery, added to the front of a late-1800s home at 15th Street and First Avenue SE in 1924. McRaith’s ice cream shop and the Cross & Company grocery store were added in 1934.
The three storefronts eventually were combined and housed the Music Loft before it was demolished, along with the once-majestic home, in September 2018.
Three other neighboring homes also were demolished at that time, including one known as the Baker Apartments.
Just across the street, a former 1890s duplex that was on the Grant Wood walking tour and a candidate for the National Register of Historic Places also was razed to make way for a new development.
Further up First Avenue, the John M. and Laurel Ely house, 2218 First Ave. NE, constructed in 1916, was demolished last year, as well, and replaced by an office building.
Built a century ago for the newlyweds — the fourth generation of the pioneer Ely family in Cedar Rapids — the home also was a rare example of the Prairie School style of architecture in the city.
Another major loss of the city’s historic architecture came when Skogman Realty demolished three buildings along First Avenue SE, including the 1923 Bever Building – named for another Cedar Rapids pioneer family – in the Downtown Historic District.
The site will be used for Skogman’s new headquarters.
Some sites of historical importance still exist along First Avenue, including the former office of artist Grant Wood’s dentist, at 1508 First Ave. NE.
Dr. Byron McKeeby was the model for the farmer in the renowned artist’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 the commercial building and although he moved his office to the third floor of the Guaranty Bank Building in downtown Cedar Rapids, he returned to the First Avenue location before retiring in the mid-1940s. At that time he lived in the house next door at 1512 First Ave. NE.
Stoffer Hunter will highlight other buildings along the route to note their significance to the city’s history.
NOTE: The “Hidden Homes” tour is scheduled for Friday, July 26, 2019, from 6-7:30 p.m. Admission is free for members of Save CR Heritage and $7 for non-members. Memberships are available at the door for $25. Starting point is Stewart Baxter Funeral & Memorial Services, 1844 First Ave. NE. If no services are held at that time, tour-goers will be allowed to see inside the historic building before the walking tour begins. Please dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes, as the walking tour is approximately one mile.