Parlor City owner tackles next project in New Bohemia
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – The last of three neighborhood theaters built one century ago for Czech immigrant movie-goers could someday again draw crowds.
The former Ideal Theatre most recently served as Borgenson Automotive Paint, 215 16th Ave. SE, one of the businesses in the New Bohemia district to rebound after the catastrophic 2008 flood.
Jon Jelinek, owner of Parlor City Pub & Eatery, 1125 Third St. SE, purchased the building from owner Betty Borgenson in December, with plans to reopen the former theater as a reception hall.
“Antique shows, wedding receptions, anybody who wants to rent it,” Jelinek said of his vision in restoring the 3,800-square-foot building. “Once or twice a week we’ll get another 200 people down here.”
Jelinek plans to have a stage for bands or a DJ, a bar area and an office. Little remains of the former theater, but the Ideal name, etched in tiles in front of the building, survived the flood and will be restored.
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!
The Ideal Theatre opened in 1914, one of three silent movie theaters in the district that catered to the neighborhood’s Bohemian immigrants. Both the Praha Theatre, at 227 14th Ave. SE, and the Olympic, later named the Strand Theatre, at 1124 Third St. SE, have since been demolished.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Ideal Theatre was built and initially operated by Frank J. Smid, proprietor of Smid’s Hardware Store located just across the alley at 219 14th Ave. SE.
A newspaper advertisement from Jan. 1, 1915, announced “The greatest Bohemian
motion play ever produced: Prodaná Nevěsta” (The Bartered Bride.) The ad also noted that a news reel would be shown, relaying news “from the seat of
war.” Tickets were 5 cents and 10 cents.
According to the National Register listing, all three theaters were short-lived. The Ideal Theatre was converted to a box factory in the 1920s and Smid eventually relocated his hardware store there during the 1930s.
Betty Borgenson said the paint store moved into the building in the mid-1980s. She noted that International Refinish Products, Inc., purchased Borgenson’s remaining inventory after she sold the building to Jelinek, who quickly began interior work.
Borgenson said she hadn’t realized what was hidden under the drop-ceilings and behind the walls. Jelinek has uncovered the original tin ceiling and two murals depicting trees and nature scenes, said to have been painted by the same artist who painted murals inside St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, nearby at 1224 Fifth St. SE.
Unfortunately, someone sawed out gaping holes in the murals at some point in time, making the paintings unsalvageable, Jelinek said.
The irony isn’t lost on Jelinek, who has made it a habit to rescue signs and other memorabilia of businesses in his hometown, many of which line the walls at Parlor City. Remnants of Sinclair Packing House and more fill every corner of the popular venue, in the former Iowa State Savings Bank.
The Ideal Theatre building sits just across the street from where another of the neighborhood’s iconic buildings once stood. From a front window, Jelinek has a clear view of the now-vacant site of the Hach Building, a former saloon and bottling works company built in 1901.
Owners Diane and Leon “Tunnie” Melsha had the structure demolished in May 2014, despite efforts by Save Cedar Rapids Heritage and offers from an investors group with financing and plans to restore the building, a contributing structure in the same Bohemian Commercial Historic District as the Ideal Theatre.
Already, Jelinek had purchased about 10 other buildings since the 2008 flood devastated the neighborhood, but he didn’t want the theater to come into the wrong hands and meet the same fate as the Hach Building.
Most recently, he and son, Nick, restored two homes at 1113 and 1117 Third St. SE. The two-story home now houses Ruhl & Ruhl Realtors downstairs and an apartment above. The single-story home, which Jelinek hopes to open by March, will become a bed-and-breakfast, with food catered by Parlor City.
He intends to name the bed-and-breakfast after the original owners of the 1875 house, Albert and Anna Herda. Similarly, the forthcoming reception hall will incorporate the Ideal name when it opens, sometime in late 2016, Jelinek said.
He would like to restore the exterior of the theater to its original look. Borgenson said the one photo she had of the Ideal Theatre was lost in the 2008 flood, so Jelinek is hoping someone will come forward with other photos.
“Everyone you talk to says it’s hard to find a reception hall,” he said, noting that high-tech amenities will be added while retaining the tin ceilings and other historical features. “This is going to have ambiance.”
And while he didn’t expect to buy any buildings after the bank that became Parlor City, Jelinek, 58, predicts this will be his final project. “Of course, I’ve said that before,” he said with a laugh.