Even for historic buildings, demolition permits are regularly granted in the city, with little chance for preservation advocates to intervene.
Since its inception in 2012 to try to prevent the demolition of the iconic First Christian Church, Save CR Heritage has been working to preserve historic buildings through awareness and action, including developing reuse strategies.
Reusing buildings on-site is the primary objective, but when circumstances do not allow a structure to be left in place, Save CR Heritage has advocated for relocating historic buildings.
Oftentimes, though, enough time isn’t available to move a structure. The city’s Historic Preservation Commission can only place a 60-day hold on buildings considered historically significant after a demolition permit has been requested. While moves have been accomplished, they remain a rarity in Cedar Rapids.
As a last resort, salvaging materials from those buildings destined for demolition offers a way to save pieces of a city’s built history, keep debris out of the landfill and provide area residents with flooring and other hard-to-replicate items to reuse in their older homes.
Under the guidance of Friends of Historic Preservation in Iowa City, volunteers with Save CR Heritage have undertaken the salvage of homes that otherwise would have completely gone to the landfill.
Some materials, like flooring, wood trim and cast iron farm sinks, are being sold through Little House Artifacts. The salvage warehouse and storefront, at 1301 Third St. S.E. in Cedar Rapids, is owned by Save CR Heritage board member Beth DeBoom, who takes materials as space allows.
And now, unique doors, sinks, hardwood flooring, wood trim, newel posts, light fixtures, windows and other items from Cedar Rapids are being sold at Friends of Historic Preservation’s Salvage Barn, for reuse by homeowners and artists looking to find those rare architectural elements, often crafted of old-growth wood or other materials no longer available.
The Salvage Barn, located at the East Side Recycling Center next to Habitat Restore in Iowa City, sells architectural salvage items that are 50 years and older.
Sales of the items coming from Cedar Rapids support the efforts of both non-profit organizations, which share similar missions.
“We have a lot of construction going on in Iowa City,” said Audrey Keith, director of the Salvage Barn, “but not many older houses are being torn down that we would salvage.”
The same can’t be said in Cedar Rapids, where developers and others target older homes and historic buildings that can be purchased for less than newer structures, razing them to make way for new developments or “green space.”
Already, Save CR Heritage board members and other trained volunteers have saved hundreds of items and tons of material from the landfill by salvaging homes destined for demolition.
Newer items in good condition are saved and donated to Habitat ReStore in Cedar Rapids.
Steve Emerson, president of Aspect Architecture, has donated storage space for Save CR Heritage, and a recent donation of help came from Adamantine Spine Moving, an Iowa City-based local and long-distance moving company, which loaded and transported a truckload of items from Cedar Rapids to the Salvage Barn.
Shoppers at the Salvage Barn include owners of older homes, collectors, and people looking for vintage doors, window frames and more for Pinterest and art projects.
While they prefer the buildings be kept in use, Save CR Heritage volunteers say salvaging is their way of being environmentally responsible and honoring the past homeowners and craftsmanship of places that otherwise would be forgotten.
“It hurts my heart to see old buildings and houses torn down, their beautiful stories and parts thrown in the garbage,” said Nikki Halvorson, a Save CR Heritage board member who has been active in the salvage operations. “I would never be able to live with myself if I didn’t do something with all the passion and duty I feel to keep treasures out of our landfill, especially given what we know now about how important it is environmentally to reuse and recycle still-useful items. These buildings have charm and character and soul that can never be replicated once they’re gone.”
Anyone interested in volunteering on the Save CR Heritage salvage crew can send an email to: SaveCRHeritage@gmail.com
The Salvage Barn, at 2401 Scott Blvd. S.E., Iowa City, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment on Sundays. See more on Facebook and at: www.salvagebarn.org