Coe College offers sign of hope to preservation advocates
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – City historian Mark Stoffer Hunter hopes Coe College’s renovation of Fire Station No. 3 for student housing will usher in a new era.
“Right now, it appears they’re going more towards preservation,” Stoffer Hunter said after Coe dedicated the building Friday, Sept. 19, as the Whipple Fire House. “It seems to be an effort.”
That effort is one that has long been sought in the neighborhood next to Coe in northeast Cedar Rapids. Stoffer Hunter pointed to at least 50 buildings that the college had demolished since 2006 alone.
The fire station, along with renovation of the Hampton Court Apartments, at 1263 and 1261 First Ave. SE, offer encouragement to Stoffer Hunter, who has also been leading tours in the neighborhood of historic buildings that are still standing, on behalf of the college.
“They’re all encouraging signs,” he said.
The renovation of Fire Station No. 3, at 1424 B Ave. NE, was also appreciated by others whose history is tied to the station, built in 1925.
“When we knew we’d be building a new Station 3, it was a bittersweet moment,” said Assistant Fire Chief Greg Smith.
While new equipment and modern surroundings to fit the needs of firefighters was welcomed, Smith said he had mixed feelings about leaving the neighborhood station.
“This was the oldest working fire house in the city,” he said of the B Avenue station, noting that the new site, at 3500 Crestwood Drive. NW, opened last year. “Tradition is very big in the fire service.”
Smith and other firefighters at the dedication of the Whipple Fire House gave their approval
to the renovation, which included an expansion to fit 37 students.
Originally, the college planned to renovate the existing space for 26 students, using the second-floor firefighter bedrooms and creating additional rooms in the former truck bays. A second-floor addition allowed more students to fit in the building, while retaining the historic look of the fire house, said Coe President David McInally.
“This building offered a unique opportunity,” McInally said during the dedication.
The fire house was named in honor of the late William Whipple, who graduated from Coe in 1935 and was a longtime trustee and supporter of the college.
Whipple also was a supporter of the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, noted Jack Evans, president of the Hall-Perrine Foundation, which contributed to Coe’s investment in remodeling and other work on the building.
“He’d be happy to know his name is associated with the preservation of a fire station,” Evans said.
Coe spent $585,000 for renovations and other work, in addition to the $290,000 paid to the city for the property, which, the college notes, sits in the middle of the college’s campus expansion project. The expansion covers a 2 1/2-block area between 14th and 15th Street NE along A, B and C Avenues NE. Since early 2006, Coe has acquired about 80 percent of the homes in the area, now next to the new B Avenue Historic District.
McInally said after the dedication that Coe plans no demolitions in the immediate future. Some of the buildings the college acquired are used by staff and students, he noted.
Connor Swanson, a 20-year-old Coe junior who lives on the first floor of the new student housing, said he appreciates the history behind the building
An international business major from a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., Swanson said he has spent time in Germany and Italy and is interested in older architecture found in Europe, as well as here.
“I’m fascinated by architecture and history,” he said. “Saving and reusing historic spaces is good for the culture of a city.”