Mystery surrounding the former Brosh Chapel goes beyond its funeral home past.
Finding answers to a missing piece of the building’s history could mean the difference between a nearly $1 million redevelopment for the New Bohemia district and leaving another flood-damaged structure to languish.
Historians hope Cedar Rapids residents have those answers.
Steve Van Fleet, 55, of Cedar Rapids, owner of Papa Juan’s/Stefano’s, 5505 Center Point Rd. NE, wants to open a second Mexican/Italian restaurant at the site of the chapel, 1028 Third St. SE.
The funeral home moved after the June 2008 flood to the Cedar Rapids Czech National Cemetery.
Since then, vandals have stolen caskets and broken windows in the building that sits next to the forthcoming NewBo City Market and diagonally from CSPS Hall, which is undergoing a $6.4 million renovation.
Van Fleet and two investors see the site as ideal for an upscale Papa Juan’s/Stefano’s, known for its margaritas and Mexican and Italian food.
They plan a $900,000 project that could open within 4 months of obtaining permits.
Although the building is in the historic New Bohemia district, the structure itself is considered “non-contributing.”
That means no incentives, including about half of renovation costs recouped in the form of historic tax credits.
An even greater advantage to the designation would be an exemption from raising the 7,000-square-foot building above flood level.
Historic buildings do not have to be raised. Doing so would make the project cost-prohibitive, Van Fleet said. Demolishing the building would cost an additional $250,000.
Structures can qualify for historic designation based on architecture, significant events or people.
Built in 1942, the structure qualifies by being more than 50 years old, but has been altered so the architectural component does not apply.
Still, Robyn Rieckhoff, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, and others poring through documents, believe the building qualifies for its ties to a significant event: World War II.
The structure was built during a moratorium on building permits in Cedar Rapids, which were granted only for businesses like Collins Radio and others providing needs for the war effort, said Rod Scott, president of Preservation Iowa.
Its first occupant was the Denver-Chicago Trucking Company, which may have been used to truck meat from the nearby Wilson & Co. packing plant to military depots for the war fronts.
Iowa’s State Historic Preservation Office needs documentation to consider the building historic, Scott said, but records for the building’s war years are nowhere to be found.
Scott hopes someone who knew the trucking company’s former managers, Ralph Knolk and Joseph Steggall, or others who worked there can fill in the missing pieces.