Change Underway for New Bohemia’s White Elephant Building
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS — After being in limbo for more than seven years, the historic White Elephant building could soon see new life, as the owners await a decision from the state.
Co-owner Jamey Stroschine said he would like to move the building onto a new foundation as early as this fall before rehabilitating the structure and building an addition on the site at 1010 Third St. SE.
“Our goal has always been to bring it up to code and put a business in there,” said Stroschine, president of T.U.S.K. LLC.
Plans call for a first-floor deli, with retail space in the rear of the building and office space on the second floor.
The building, constructed in 1889, is a key contributing structure to the Bohemian Commercial Historic District, but has remained vacant since the 2008 flood.
After changing hands more than once, Stroschine purchased the building about two years ago and hoped to have had the project completed by now.
The latest delay comes as he awaits word from the State Historic Preservation Office on an application for a historic exemption that would allow the building to remain at street-level.
During the 2008 flood, the building was inundated with 12 feet of Cedar River floodwaters, along with the rest of the New Bohemia area.
Because the building is in a 100-year flood plain, Stroschine said without the exemption, he would be required to elevate the structure nearly 4 feet.
“We’d like to be able to keep the building where it’s at,” he said. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t look as it does today.”
The White Elephant building, a late Victorian-Italianate structure, was originally a “false front” store added on to a single-story immigrant home built in the 1870s.
According to the district’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, John Vavra built the immigrant home in the 1870s and constructed the two-story commercial portion in 1889.
Frank Suchy, a watchmaker and jeweler, operated a shop in the building before constructing the brick storefront next door in 1907, which now houses Bata’s Restaurant.
As a sign of the times, the nomination notes, in 1937, the shop space at 1010 Third St. SE went from “riches to rags” when Catherine Rouse began selling used clothing there during the Great Depression. The White Elephant continued operating from the site for decades.
The original immigrant home was demolished earlier this year, without having to undergo review before the Historic Preservation Commission. Because the home was attached to another structure, it was considered a “partial demolition,” a loophole that the commission is attempting to fix.
Stroschine said the home was structurally unsound and he has attempted to find funding to make the project feasible while retaining the historical elements of the building.
One portion of the project that has changed is moving the building to open an area for an outdoor patio between the White Elephant and neighboring Bata’s Restaurant, at 1006 Third St. SE.
Cost constraints with fireproofing the White Elephant building — because it would be moved in close proximity to the Top Drawer shop, 1016 Third St. SE — and other factors have nixed the idea, Stroschine said.
As it stands, plans call for renovating the existing 1,200 square feet of commercial space and adding 1,200 square feet of retail space and 2,400 square feet of office space.
The project received preliminary approval Oct. 20 from the City Council to establish an Urban Revitalization Area that would qualify it for about $50,000 in tax exemptions on the increased assessed valuation over a 10-year period.
Owners estimate total investment in the project of $435,900.
Jennifer Pruden, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, applauded efforts to save the building.
“It’s bringing in additional new space,” she said, “and they’re doing their best to keep a historic building intact that otherwise may have been lost.”