Tour offers behind-the-scenes look at White Elephant, other buildings in south New Bo
CEDAR RAPIDS – A behind-the-scenes architectural tour will showcase historic buildings at the south end of New Bohemia that have survived flooding and the test of time, including an exclusive look inside the relocated and restored White Elephant building.
The CR Hearts Tour, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, celebrates the fifth anniversary of Save CR Heritage, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the value of historic buildings to the community.
Tickets will be sold at the starting point at the Lunak House, a 1915 Czech immigrant home at 213 13th Ave. SE, where maps will be available of the tour sites, all within walking distance of one-another.
Tour-goers can arrive at the Lunak House any time between 3-4:30 p.m. to begin. Hosts will be at each tour stop from 3-5 p.m. to share the history of the building, and in some cases, provide a look at areas that otherwise are not open to the general public.
Tickets are just $10 each, or free with a $25 membership in Save CR Heritage. Memberships will be available at the Lunak House, as well.
A social hour, featuring light appetizers and a cash bar, will follow at the Ideal Social Hall, 213 16th Ave. SE, from 5-6 p.m., where Save CR Heritage board member Nicole Halvorson will share a presentation about the Bohemian Commercial Historic District.
Tour-goers will receive drink discounts that night at Tornado’s Grub & Pub, 1600 Third St. SE, Little Bohemia, 1317 Third St. SE, and Kickstand, 203 16th Ave. SE.
Mad Modern, 227 16th Ave. SE, and Little House Artifacts, 1301 Third St. SE, also plan specials for tour-goers during tour hours.
Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District is co-hosting the event, which features the following sites:
Lunak House: 213 13th Ave. SE
The Jarislav and Rose Lunak house was built around 1915 and is a contributing structure to the Bohemian Commercial Historic District. Jarislav Lunak served as secretary for the National Supreme Lodge of the C.S.P.S., a Bohemian fraternal organization.
After the 2008 flood, contaminated plaster, moldings and interior doors were removed, while the second floor retained original wood moldings, plaster, newel post and banister, wood floors and five-panel doors and hardware. The building now serves as an Airbnb.
Novotny House/Little House Artifacts/“Heart House”: 1301 3rd St. SE
The Vaclav and Antonia Novotny house was built between 1884-1889. Vaclav Novotny worked at Sinclair & Company from circa 1890 through circa 1907.
Following the Flood of 2008, in which the house was filled with water to a depth of 8 feet, this 130-year-old building (nicknamed the “Heart House”) was condemned by the city, but saved by Tom and Beth DeBoom.
An extensive renovation created an Airbnb upstairs and an architectural salvage store on the first floor. Contaminated plaster, moldings and interior doors were removed.
Original windows remained on the upper level, and the original stair and banister were retained. The second floor retains original wood moldings, plaster, wood floors and four-panel doors and hardware.
Vavra House/White Elephant Building: 1305 3rd St. SE
The Vavra House was built by John Vavra in the 1870s as a one-story single-family dwelling at 1010 3rd St. SE, and took on its commercial form by 1889 when a two-story addition was constructed across its front.
Frank Suchy, a watchmaker and jeweler, operated a shop in the building before constructing the brick storefront next door in 1907. In 1937, the shop space at 1010 Third St. SE went from “riches to rags” when Catherine Rouse began selling used clothing there during the Great Depression. The White Elephant continued operating from the site for decades.
During the 2008 flood, the building was inundated with 12 feet of Cedar River floodwaters and then sat vacant for nine years. At risk of demolition, the building was moved in 2016 and again in 2017 to its current location at 1305 Third St. SE by Tom and Beth DeBoom and Bart Woods.
With work by Primus Construction, tour-goers will be among the first to see inside the rehabilitated building at its new site. Wood floors, beadboard ceiling on the main floor, plaster ceiling on the upper floor and storefront elements are among the features that remain, while others were replicated, including the front doors, which were removed before the building was moved.
The project received a Main Street Iowa Challenge grant, a Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street Building Improvement grant for the replacement front doors and will receive state and federal historic tax credits.
Park Fulton Filling Station/former Red Ball Printing: 1390 3rd St. SE
The Park Fulton Filling Station opened in 1939. When constructed, this two-bay service station was operated by Park J. Fulton and later handled Skelly Oil products. The service station was long known as Zitek’s, or Zitek Skelly Service. The late Lumir “Chic” Zitek, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, was the owner-operator for 30 years.
Like the rest of New Bohemia, the building, which served as a used car lot after decades as a service station, was inundated with floodwaters in 2008. It sat vacant for the next six years before being restored and serving as Red Ball Printing, which just recently relocated to the Czech Village neighborhood.
Friendly Service Station/Mad Modern: 227 16th Ave. SE
The Friendly Service Station was completed in 1936, and serves as an example of an early service station built in the Mission Style.
Since June of 2011, the site has housed Mad Modern, a vintage furniture store specializing in retro and midcentury pieces.
The building received major flooding not only in 2008, but was among those hit hard in 2016, when barriers erected by the city left the business on the “wet side.” Owner David Owens was finally able to re-open two months later.
Ideal Theatre/Ideal Social Hall: 213 16th Ave. SE
The Ideal Theatre was completed in 1914 and operated by Frank J. Smid, proprietor of Smid’s Hardware Store located just across the alley at 219 14th Ave. SE. The theater included Bohemian language films of special interest to residents of Cedar Rapids’ South Side.
From the mid-1980s, the building served as Borgenson Automotive Paint. In 2015, the building was purchased by Jon Jelinek, owner of Parlor City Pub & Eatery, 1125 Third St. SE, who reopened the former theater as a reception hall.
Jelinek uncovered the original tin ceiling and two murals depicting trees and nature scenes. Although someone sawed out gaping holes in the murals at some point in time, they were miraculously restored.
After the social hour, tour-goers are invited to support area restaurants and bars throughout the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, with specials offered at these nearby establishments:
Tornado’s Grub & Pub: 1600 3rd St. SE
This building was constructed in 1914. It was saved following the 2008 flood, but like Mad Modern, was hit-hard again in 2016, when it was left on the wet side of the flood barriers.
Montague Brothers Service Station/Kickstand: 203 14th Ave. SE
This building was built in 1959 and served as the Montague Brothers Service Station and later became Novak-Miller Monuments.
Lesinger Block/Little Bohemia Tavern: 1317 3rd St. SE
This 1883 building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. The tavern opened after Prohibition’s end in 1935, and was one of the first encountered by thirsty workers leaving the nearby Sinclair meatpacking plant.
It became an icon when Marvin Cone painted it and its big-bellied, overalled clientele in 1941.
Save Cedar Rapids Heritage was formed in response to the demolition of the 1875-era former People’s Church in downtown Cedar Rapids, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, and to try to prevent the demolition of another historic church.
The First Christian Church was one of several historic buildings slated for demolition to create parking for the new Physician’s Clinic of Iowa (PCI) complex at Third Avenue and 10th Street SE.
Save CR Heritage applied for its official 501(c)(3) status and began fundraising in hopes of allowing the building to be redeveloped, rather than demolished. Despite ample interest from developers, the church was razed in 2012.
Since then, Save CR Heritage received its nonprofit status and has gone on to advocate for other buildings at-risk of demolition.
In 2015, the young organization moved the “Frankie House,” which was slated to be torn down on Third Street SE.
The 1890s Bohemian home was relocated a few blocks away and rehabilitated through the efforts of Save CR Heritage board members and volunteers and is now occupied by a young family.
Along with its other advocacy work, the group has also hosted a tour of buildings in Cedar Rapids that were revitalized with help from historic tax credits and organized a community forum at the Cedar Rapids Public Library to discuss the Cedar Rapids School District’s plan to close eight elementary schools and demolish 10 others.
Save CR Heritage has been raising awareness of at-risk historic properties in Cedar Rapids since 2012. Help continue this important educational and advocacy work by donating here. We can’t do it without you!