More demolitions loom in Cedar Rapids medical district
By Cindy Hadish
The Cedar Rapids medical district continues to “pluck off” historic buildings in the city, this time targeting a contributing structure in the Automobile Row Historic District, as well as one of the last homes still standing on Mansion Hill.
At the city’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Dec. 14, commission members put 60-day holds on both demolition requests, buying just a short amount of time.
The “MedQ,” which purchased the property at 800 Third Ave. SE last month for $115,000, intends to demolish the former service station for a park.
Built in the 1920s, with additions in the 1950s and 1960s, the site is listed as a contributing structure of the Auto Row District on the National Register of Historic Places. “Contributing” structures are those with historical integrity or architectural qualities that make the historic district significant.
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Mark Stoffer Hunter, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the building is not intact, but is one of just three former service stations in the district, which tell the story of businesses that sprung up around the historic Lincoln Highway. The highway was built through Cedar Rapids, first in 1913 along First Avenue, and then rerouted in 1922.
The Auto Row Historic District runs along Second Avenue SE, between Sixth and Seventh streets, and Third Avenue SE, between Seventh and Eighth streets. Of the district’s 21 buildings, 17 are considered contributing structures, but that will soon shrink to 16 when the service station is demolished.
Commission member Tim Oberbroeckling asked MedQ executive director Phil Wasta what other buildings the medical district has in its sights, after Wasta called the corner a “blight.”
“My big concern is, are we going to keep plucking these off?” Oberbroeckling said, adding that he was not opposed to the jobs that the medical district creates, but wants to retain some of the city’s heritage.
Oberbroeckling cited consultants hired by the MedQ who noted that historic preservation is an important element in the medical district, which spans 55 blocks, primarily in southeast Cedar Rapids.
Minutes later, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa (PCI) made its request for a demolition permit for a mansion on the same block, at 824 Third Ave. SE.
The home – designed by Brucemore architects Josselyn & Taylor – was turned into apartments, Stoffer Hunter said, but still has its architectural integrity and would likely qualify for the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1885, the structure was constructed for the Charles Clark family and was once one of more than 100 similar homes on “Mansion Hill,” he said, but now is one of just a few remaining.
Stoffer Hunter questioned when PCI changed its plans to have the building demolished under its new expansion effort.
Mike Sundall, CEO of PCI, said the demolition wasn’t a new plan, adding that it was in the works for at least five or six years. The group plans to construct a new medical building, he said, and the mansion would be demolished to make way for another parking ramp.
Oberbroeckling noted that he still hears from people upset when the nearly century-old First Christian Church was razed in 2012 on that same block for surface parking for PCI.
The city also allowed part of Second Avenue to be closed off and more than a dozen other buildings were demolished to make way for PCI’s “medical mall” and related parking.
Sundall said PCI would put demolition costs, estimated at $50,000, toward the cost of moving the mansion if someone comes forward soon with a plan.
Commission members questioned whether a vacant lot for a building that size could be found before PCI wants the site vacated in March, but placed a 60-day hold on the demolition permit in hopes that someone would step forward.