White Elephant owners seek demolition for historic New Bohemia building
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS — The White Elephant building in New Bohemia appears to be at the end of its rope.
Just last fall, owners of the historic building had planned to begin work on the foundation and hoped to build an addition to the site at 1010 Third St. SE.
This week, however, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission will consider a demolition permit for the building. The meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10, 2016, in the training room in the lower level of City Hall, 101 First St. SE.
There is little the commission can do to prevent a demolition unless a building is in one of the city’s local historic districts, where members have a say on proposed changes to buildings, including demolitions.
While the White Elephant building is in the Bohemian Commercial Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, there are no local protections and property owners are free to do as they please.
The White Elephant building has been in limbo for more than seven years, after it was flooded in June 2008.
After changing hands more than once, co-owner Jamey Stroschine purchased the building about two years ago and hoped to have had the project completed by now.
Stroschine said last fall that plans called for a first-floor deli, with retail space in the rear of the building and office space on the second floor.
He cited financial considerations in seeking the demolition permit.
The building, constructed in 1889, is a key contributing structure to the Bohemian Commercial Historic District. Many of the district’s buildings were demolished after the flood and whether or not the district could be “delisted” after another key structure disappears remains in question.
Building owners who have received help in the form of tax credits or other assistance may be required to repay those funds if their building is no longer in a historic district, though those that are individually listed would not.
Federal funding was used for a structural report on the White Elephant building that is still under way and was part of an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mitigate the demolitions of historic buildings that Cedar Rapids conducted after the flood.
The building, a late Victorian-Italianate structure, was originally a “false front” store added on to a single-story immigrant home built in the 1870s.
During the 2008 flood, the building was inundated with 12 feet of Cedar River floodwaters, along with the rest of the New Bohemia area.
According to the district’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, John Vavra built the immigrant home in the 1870s and constructed the two-story commercial portion in 1889.
Frank Suchy, a watchmaker and jeweler, operated a shop in the building before constructing the brick storefront next door in 1907, which now houses Bata’s Restaurant.
As a sign of the times, the nomination notes, 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.
The original immigrant home was demolished last year, without having to undergo review before the Historic Preservation Commission. Because the home was attached to another structure, it was considered a “partial demolition,” a loophole that the commission is attempting to fix.
The project received preliminary approval last fall from the City Council to establish an Urban Revitalization Area that would qualify it for about $50,000 in tax exemptions on the increased assessed valuation over a 10-year period.
Meanwhile, NewBo Station and The Depot, both are receiving 10-year, 100 percent property tax breaks for their new construction projects in New Bohemia. Raygun, a T-shirt shop, is set to open in NewBo Station, on the same block as the White Elephant, in April.