Building in Automobile Row slated for parking; empty lot planned
CEDAR RAPIDS – Even before it is considered for the National Register of Historic Places, demolition threatens one building in the city’s proposed “automobile row,” along with a former Italian-American tavern near downtown Cedar Rapids.
City officials postponed the historic district’s nomination to the National Register and set a meeting for 2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 at City Hall, 101 First St. SE, to address building owners’ questions about the proposed district.Members of Save CR Heritage discussed the pending demolitions at a meeting this month at CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE.
The former A-1 Vacuum, 209 Seventh St. SE, is one of just 16 “contributing” structures – those with distinctive architectural character – in the proposed Cedar Rapids Second Avenue SE Automobile Row Historic District.
Developer Steve Emerson took out demolition permits for the building, constructed in 1928, along with another 1928 building, the former Green Square Tavern, most recently known as the Coopacabana, 529 Fourth Ave. SE.The Seventh Street building will make way for parking for another of Emerson’s buildings, while nothing is currently planned for the Fourth Avenue site.
Last year, Emerson built a three-story, 45,000-square-foot building at 600 Third Ave. SE, the site of the former People’s Church; the first building on the National Register of Historic Places to be razed in Cedar Rapids without previous damage by fire or natural disaster.
Now occupied by Wellmark and CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, the offices of Morgan Stanley also will move into that building in March and company leaders have said they are confident Emerson would be able to supply adequate parking.
On Feb. 8, the State Nomination Review Committee was scheduled to review Automobile Row’s eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, but the city pulled the nomination from that day’s agenda, said Jeff Morgan, spokesman for the State Historical Society of Iowa. The committee could revisit the application in June, he said.
Owners of contributing structures in historic districts can access grants and historic tax credits for renovations that meet guidelines.
Cedar Rapids received federal funds to prepare the nomination, even as other buildings that would have been included in the district were razed for parking for the Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa medical pavilion and the city’s own Central Fire Station.
Hiring a consultant was the result of an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which funds mitigation to offset losses sustained when the federal government pays to demolish historic sites.
Because federal funds were used in 2011 to raze the flood-damaged First Street Parkade after it was deemed historic, the government paid for the Automobile Row nomination and a survey of 110 former filling stations and other properties related to the auto industry that were built between 1900 and 1960.
The survey noted 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.Nine non-contributing and 16 contributing structures were included in Automobile Row, which spans Sixth to 10th streets SE between Second and Third avenues.
A-1 Vacuum, originally used as an automobile service shop, was sold in December to Emerson’s Progression LC for $350,000. Progression purchased the former Green Square Tavern the same month for $275,225, according to city assessor’s records.At a Jan. 31 meeting, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission placed a 60-day hold on both demolition permits.
Emerson also plans to demolish the rear portion of the Gazette building, 500 Third Ave. SE, to use as parking for his Third Avenue building.
Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter, a member of Save CR Heritage, said the former Green Square Tavern was built by the Trombino brothers to originally house Trombino Bros. Grocery, along with a bakery operated by Thomas Sutter.
After Prohibition, the brothers ran the Roman Inn Restaurant and Roman Inn Beer Tavern and by 1937 the building was known as Green Square Tavern, without the “e” of the nearby Greene Square Park, he noted.
Architectural features on the brick building, such as a stone relief of an Olympic torch, draw a connection to the brothers’ roots, Stoffer Hunter said.
“I think the building has great curb appeal,” he said, adding that it was restored after the Floods of 2008. “It still looks good and it’s functional. I think there’s a great Italian-American story here.”
Maura Pilcher, vice president of Save CR Heritage, questioned the city policy that allows owners to demolish buildings that house businesses to create an empty lot. “The bigger issue is, is this good planning?” she asked. “This community does allow buildings to be demolished (without development plans) so what we have are vacant lots all over our city.”