Hach Building demolition ends family and neighborhood story
CEDAR RAPIDS – Robert Hach Jr. shook his head in disbelief.
More than a century of his family’s history knocked down within minutes; wiped clean within hours.
“It’s one thing to talk about it,” he said of the demolition of the Hach Building, which his great-grandfather, Peter Hach, constructed in 1901 in southeast Cedar Rapids. “It’s another to see it.”
By the time Hach arrived at the site Monday morning, the building – a former saloon and bottling works company – was rubble.
A promise to hand over the signature P. Hach nameplate that graced the top of the building had already been reneged and now the building was gone before Hach, of Ely, and family members could have one final photo.
“I have people calling me from all over the country,” he said of the interest from relatives and others, as news of the pending demolition spread. “It’s unfortunate things transpired as they did.”
After advertising the sale of the historic building on Craigslist, owners Diane and Leon “Tunnie” Melsha decided to have the structure demolished, despite an offer for their full asking price from an investors group. The group had the financing and plans to restore the building, a contributing structure in the Bohemian Commercial Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tunnie Melsha said that he didn’t want competition for the family’s Little Bohemia tavern, 1317 Third St. SE, which sits just behind the building.
Rick Stickle, out of prison after being convicted in 2005 of ordering the illegal dumping of 440 tons of oil-soaked grain in the South China Sea and in obstructing an investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard, was in charge of the demolition work, conducted on a rainy Monday morning.
Hach said a family member from western Iowa who is a friend of Stickle’s was offered the nameplate, but it was unclear if even that piece would go to the family. If it did, it would likely be taken out of the community and installed on a building his relative owns, he said.
Beth DeBoom, president of Save Cedar Rapids Heritage, noted that having been told the demolition would begin Monday at 8 a.m. with a ceremonial removal of the P. Hach family nameplate, Hach showed up and found the building flattened and the nameplate already removed.
“To say he winced when he arrived is putting it mildly,” DeBoom recounted. “I picked up one remaining ornamental tin piece from the rubble to give to Robert so that he would have something fromthe building.But as I walked with it to his car a Stickle worker came over and tried to wrestle it from me. I protested, saying it was for Robert Hach. He said that didn’t matter, he had orders from his boss, Rick Stickle, to give all pieces to Ken Hach, who lives in western Iowa. The demolition worker ‘won’ the struggle.”
Melsha had purchased the building, known most recently as the South Side Tap, after the 2008 flood. Despite its appearance, structural engineers said the building would have been simple to stabilize.
Save CR Heritage – a group that advocates for the preservation and use of historic structures – staged protests for two nights outside the building, which marks the entrance to the New Bohemia neighborhood from Czech Village, across the 16th Avenue Bridge.
Hach noted that the Czechs who populated both areas of Cedar Rapids were a tight-knit bunch. With the Sinclair meatpacking plant nearby, a steel mill and other businesses within walking distance, the saloon – said to be the first Anheuser Busch distributor outside of Missouri – was a popular spot for immigrant workers.
The beer was shipped unpasteurized, in wooden keg barrels to the Hach Bottling House in Cedar Rapids from St Louis via the railroad.
“My ancestors would then go down to the Union Station with a team of horses and wagon and transport the wooden kegs of beer back to the bottling house,” Hach said. There, it was carefully rolled down into the basement where it was pasteurized and bottled by hand.
Budweiser labels were glued on by hand in English, Czech and German, due to the high immigrant population in the area.
If an immigrant came into the Hach Saloon with only their foreign money, Hach said his great-grandfather would accept it and allow them to eat and drink. They set it aside, he said, but never did anything with it. Hach still has some of the old money from Cuba, Mexico and Canada that was spent in the Hach Saloon.
Diminished to a pile of bricks, rain-soaked boards and mass of concrete, Hach said he was saddened by the loss of such stories that the building represented.
“Imagine the pipeline of people going through that saloon,” he said.