CEDAR RAPIDS – The last house standing on Fourth Avenue’s “mansion hill” faces an uncertain future.
Mercy Medical Center purchased the building at 847 Fourth Ave. SE, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998.
“It really is a very important house on a lot of different levels,” said Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.
Known as the Luther Brewer house for its first owner, the home was constructed in 1897 and has been used as a four-plex apartment in recent years.
President William Howard Taft, Brewer’s friend, made numerous visits to the home in its early days, Stoffer Hunter said.
Now surrounded by parking lots, the building’s owner was a hold-out when other mansions on the block were razed to make way for new medical offices in the 1970s, Stoffer Hunter said.
Mercy purchased the building this month from Mike and Teri Graf for $260,000, more than double its assessed value of $127,534, according to the Cedar Rapids City Assessor’s website.
The Grafs, of the Graf Home Selling Team at Coldwell Banker Hedges Realty in Cedar Rapids, had owned the building since 2004, renting it out the past three years as a four-plex.
Mike Graf said the building was in disrepair and had been losing money as an investment property.
Windows have been boarded to deter vandalism, said Mike Trachta, Mercy’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
“We have no immediate or near future plans for the property,” Trachta wrote in an email. “It will remain as-is for now.”
Stoffer Hunter is concerned the building will be demolished as numerous others have in the city’s medical district.
Being listed on the National Register offers no protection, as evidenced by the demolition this week of the former Peoples Church, 600 Third Ave. SE. The 1875 church, also on the National Register, was razed to make way for a new office building.
Stoffer Hunter noted that the connection to Brewer, who helped found the first public library in Cedar Rapids, would make the house a good fit somewhere in the blocks around the new library to be constructed at Fourth Avenue and Fifth Street SE.
Brewer was city editor of the Cedar Rapids Republican, an early competitor to what was then called The Evening Gazette, and owner of Torch Press publishing house.
He also wrote the 1911 "History of Linn County" with Barthinius Wick. Brewer and his wife, Elinore, both died in 1933.
According to nomination documents filed with the National Park Service, the house is also significant as a well-preserved example of an eclectic, turn-of-the-century home designed by well-known local architect Charles Dieman. The house is one of Dieman's earliest designs in Cedar Rapids and one of the few early ones to survive, according to the nomination.
Andrea Parker, 29, who lived in a lower-level apartment until early this month, said she and her boyfriend were impressed with the building’s features, including original woodwork, fireplaces and high ceilings.
“It’s pretty stunning,” she said.
The couple could walk from the home to their jobs at Daniel Arthur’s restaurant, 821 Third Ave. SE.
They have since found another place to live that requires a drive to work.
The city’s Historic Preservation Commission briefly discussed the house at a meeting earlier this month, hoping that its historic significance would make it a candidate to be moved, rather than demolished. Mercy has not yet taken out a demolition permit.
Commission members cited one property that St. Luke’s Hospital helped facilitate moving when land was cleared to make way for the new Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa medical pavilion. They hoped Mercy would do the same for the Luther Brewer house.