CEDAR RAPIDS – Commercial real estate broker Scott Byers is hard-pressed to think of a similar building that’s gone on the market in recent years in the Cedar Rapids area.
A former house-turned funeral home known as Turner Mortuary or the George B. Douglas mansion, 800 Second Ave. SE, has been listed for sale by the Linge family, owners of Cedar Memorial.
“It’s an interesting property to represent,” Byers said. “It’s not your cookie-cutter real estate.”
The 10,085 square-foot house, built in 1893, is listed for $645,000.
Byers noted that the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and contains design touches by artist Grant Wood, including iron gates and stained glass windows.
From 1924 to 1935, Wood lived next to the home above a carriage house at 5 Turner Alley, where he painted “American Gothic” and other works.
The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art owns that studio – a gift from the Linge family – which is also on the National Register, but is not included in the sale.
Executive Director Terry Pitts said owning another building is not in the museum’s mission.
Museum executive committee members met with Byers, but “we made the decision that we were not potential purchasers,” he said.
Pitts would like to see an area college or arts non-profit buy the building to provide synergy with the Grant Wood Studio.
Otherwise, he could also see it used as an office building or for other commercial purposes.
“No one sees any scenario in which the Douglas Mansion would be torn down and we would, of course, fight that tooth and nail,” Pitts wrote in a letter to the museum’s Board of Trustees this week.
Pitts said this summer’s demolition of First Christian Church, just a block away, served as “a lesson about what could go wrong.”
A parking lot will be installed where the church was razed and a four-story parking ramp is under construction next to the Grant Wood Studio for the new Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa medical pavilion.
Cedar Memorial president John Linge said the family would oppose any demolition plan.
The mansion is one of few remaining near downtown Cedar Rapids and sits in the city’s new medical district.
Its history extends to the historic Brucemore estate, 2160 Linden Dr. SE.
Brucemore Executive Director David Janssen noted that Caroline Sinclair, who owned the estate, traded homes in 1906 with the George Douglas family so she could live in the city and the Douglasses moved to what was then the countryside.
“It was a big deal,” Janssen said of the swap, considered the largest real estate transaction in the city’s history at the time.
John B. Turner acquired the property from the Sinclairs in 1923 and converted it into Turner Mortuary.
Linge said Cedar Memorial, which purchased Turner Funeral Homes in 1978, has not used the building for funerals for several years.
In 1982, the building was renovated to reflect the Victorian era and for years, students intending to study mortuary science lived on the building’s third floor, he said.
After the Floods of 2008, Theatre Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids Symphony/Orchestra Iowa were headquartered at the site.
Families prefer more modern settings for funerals, along with convenient parking that is offered at other Cedar Memorial locations, Linge noted.
A staff member held a wedding inside the building in recent years, which prompted the family to think it could serve as a destination event center or other business.
Linge said the building was recently tuck-pointed and has a new heating and cooling system.
“She’s got real good bones,” he said.
1891 George B. Douglas purchases three adjacent Second Avenue lots on which to build a new home. George B. Douglas’ father was one of the founders of Quaker Oats, while he founded the Douglas Starch Works. A few years later, construction begins on the Douglas’ new residence and carriage house. The architect’s identity is not known.
1906 George B. Douglas completes a deal with Caroline Sinclair, owner of Brucemore, to exchange the Douglas mansion for the Brucemore mansion. The Sinclair family eventually moves into 800 Second Avenue. At some point during their tenure here, the Sinclairs have the entire carriage house moved about 40 feet to the east.
1920s After the popularization of the automobile, the 600 and 700 blocks of Second Avenue became known as Auto Alley because of all the car dealerships and service stations located there.
1923 John B. Turner, who established his mortuary business in 1888, and his son David Turner acquire the property from the Sinclairs and being the process of converting it into Turner Mortuary. It opens to the public in 1924 and The Gazette reports Grant Wood “was responsible for the decorating and furnishing of the interior, and the landscaping of the grounds. He not only personally supervised the work, but also did much of it himself.” Wood also designed the iron gates at the front entrance. The brick barn in the rear of the property was converted into a “modern garage, with space for six cars.”
1924 At the suggestion of the Turners, Wood begins to build a studio and residence above the garage. The ability to live rent-free means Wood can eventually give up teaching his job at McKinley High School. The Community Players produce their first play before a tiny audience in Grant Wood’s studio, starting the theater group that leads today’s Theatre Cedar Rapids.
1932 A fire burns part of the studio, injuring Grant, Nan, and their mother. Grant had to replace the original wooden floor with the one that remains today.
1935 John B. Turner dies at the age of 74. Wood moves out of 5 Turner Alley into a home he purchases in Iowa City. Over the next 65 years, the Studio is rented out as an apartment and even boutique on occasion.
1954 David Turner dies.
1972 John Bu. Turner II (son of David Turner) and his wife Happy donate 84 works by Grant Wood to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. They make additional gifts through 1983.
1978 Cedar Memorial Funeral Homes, founded by David Linge, purchases Turner Funeral Homes.
1982 The Douglas Mansion and Grant Wood Studio are placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1983 John B. Turner II dies.
2000 The last tenant moves out of 5 Turner Alley.
2002 The Grant Wood Studio building and related property are donated to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
2004 Grant Wood Studio & Visitor Center opens to the public.
Source: The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art