Cinderella story: from Iowa’s most endangered building list to chic housing
Feb 2018

Cinderella story: from Iowa’s most endangered building list to chic housing

The Chelsea, formerly known as the Knutson Building, is shown Feb. 15, 2018, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage

CEDAR RAPIDS – If Jim and B.J. Hobart have any response to the naysayers who actively lobbied to tear down the historic Knutson Building, they’re keeping quiet.

Rather, the couple lets their work speak for itself.

Once on Iowa’s list of most endangered buildings, the former scrap metal business known as the Knutson Building has been transformed into The Chelsea, providing chic loft housing near downtown Cedar Rapids.

A kitchen is shown in one of the apartments at The Chelsea. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Exposed brick walls, thick wooden support beams and original ceilings are among the vintage features in the building’s 18 apartments that make each room unique.

“We knew this could be saved,” B.J. Hobart said during an open house Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. “We knew it had historic value for the community.”

Others didn’t feel the same.

Even after a different developer offered a valid proposal to redevelop the 1887 structure – one of the oldest commercial buildings on the west side of Cedar Rapids – city staff recommended demolition.

The city purchased the Knutson Metal Co. property in 2012 for $1.5 million, far more than its assessed value of $98,891, according to the City Assessor’s website.

At the time, City Council members cited the owner closing his scrap metal business as part of that expense and the city also wanted to assist with cleanup of the area adjacent to the newly constructed amphitheatre.

A photo shows the building before it was restored.

After the 2008 flood, which inundated the riverfront building, nothing was done to stabilize the structure. Broken windows, a leaky roof and other issues went unrepaired.

Lobbying from preservation advocates finally resulted in the city giving developers one more chance. In July 2016, the City Council chose Hobart Historic Restoration’s plan to renovate the building as housing.

Hobart had also renovated the nearby Mott Building as housing, after purchasing that historic property from Linn County.

B.J. Hobart said The Chelsea – a name she chose because she liked it – came in under budget and the building is structurally sound.

Built as a condensed milk factory, the building also has housed a woodworking plant for gunstocks, the Warehouse bar, and a haunted house, in addition to the scrap metal business.

The Hobarts said 12 of the 18 units, ranging from $850 for a studio apartment to $1,750 for a two-bed, two-bath unit, were leased within a few weeks of opening. With three to four showings daily, the rest will go quickly, they predicted.

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!

Once on Iowa’s most endangered buildings list, the Knutson building in Cedar Rapids has been transformed into The Chelsea, offering riverfront housing. (photo/Cindy Hadish)


The interior of the Knutson Building, formerly used as a haunted house, is shown in 2014. (photo/Cindy Hadish)



B.J. Hobart speaks to a guest during an open house Feb. 15, 2018, at The Chelsea. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
A historical photo shows what the building looked like in its earlier years.
A balcony overlooks the Cedar River, with a view of downtown Cedar Rapids. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
A visitor climbs stairs at The Chelsea during an open house on Feb. 15, 2018. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Thick wooden support beams remain exposed in one of the apartments. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
Most of the units at The Chelsea were leased within weeks of the building opening. (photo/Cindy Hadish)



This is AWESOME!!! Save CR!!!

Jessica D Mullenix

Thank you for seeing the potential for beauty while others couldn’t. I pray this is nothing but a huge success!



    Cindy Hadish

    Thank you for your note! That might have been a neighboring building. The records show American Manufacturing Co. in this building in 1913. We’ll double-check!

    Cindy Hadish

    An update from our local historian, Mark Stoffer Hunter: Hutchinson Ice Cream was NOT in the Knutson/Chelsea Building at 525 Valor (H St. SW) Way SW. It was indeed within another old brick building that once stood next door at 519 H Street SW. That two story brick structure was demolished in 1995 as part of the new Police Station construction. In later years, before its destruction, 519 had a sign over the front of the building that advertised “Ken’s Bait and Guns”.

    Hutchinson Ice Cream was only in that 519 building until 1919 when they built a new Hutchinson Ice Cream factory next to Sokol Gymnasium at the NW corner of Fifth Avenue and Third Street SE (now OPN office building).

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