Buildings seek national historic status

Sokol Hall, ‘automobile row’ to be considered as nominees

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March 28, 2014 | 9:53 am

CEDAR RAPIDS — A more than century-old gymnasium and an area of southeast Cedar Rapids dubbed “automobile row” could earn their spots in history.

Sokol Hall and Gymnasium, built in 1908 at 417 Third St. SE, and the auto district, in blocks spanning Second and Third avenues, from Sixth to 10th streets, will be considered separately as nominees to the National Register of Historic Places.

The State Nominations Review Committee will consider the nominations on Feb. 8.

Cedar Rapids received federal funds to prepare the nomination of automobile row, even as buildings in the area were being demolished.

City historian Mark Stoffer Hunter cited the former Handler Motor Co., which later became Emerald Knights Hall, at 712 Second Ave. SE.

The building and others on the block were razed before the city purchased the property to build the Cedar Rapids Central Fire Station, which remains under construction.

Just last year, Teena’s Furniture, a former Swab Motor dealership at 829 Second Ave. SE, was demolished to make way for parking for the new Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa medical pavilion.

The consultant hired to prepare the nomination noted the changes, even after she began work in 2011.

“Over the course of the year, the face of the district changed quite rapidly,” Kristy Medanic, an architectural historian from Wapsi Valley Archaeology, wrote in a presentation for the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which met last night. “Several buildings between Eighth and 10th streets SE were demolished, leaving the Firestone building quite removed from the original district. “

In the end, Firestone, at 205 10th St. SE, was included in the nomination, “as it is an important part of the history of automobiles in Cedar Rapids,” Medanic wrote.

Stoffer Hunter said enough structures remain to potentially qualify for the National Register, which makes owners of contributing structures — those with distinctive architectural character — eligible for grants and tax credits for restoration.

In all, 16 contributing buildings and nine non-contributing buildings were included in the district.

Funding for the nomination came as a result of an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA uses mitigation funds to offset losses incurred when the federal government pays to demolish historic sites; in this case, the flood-damaged First Street Parkade, razed in 2011 after it was deemed historic.

The agreement also paid for a survey of multiple properties citywide that are related to the auto industry and built between 1900 and 1960.

That 106-page survey notes that the growth of the automobile industry was important in transforming Cedar Rapids into the second largest city in Iowa by the mid-20th Century. The Lincoln Highway was routed onto Second Avenue around 1920, fueling the growth of businesses to service automobiles traveling the road from New York to California.

Of 110 buildings scattered throughout Cedar Rapids that Medanic surveyed, 45 were identified as potentially individually eligible for listing on the register, including filling stations and auto parts dealers.

One of those is a 1930s gas station at 1432 Mount Vernon Rd. SE. Unless someone comes forward to move the building, which sits in the site where Kum & Go plans to build a convenience store, the structure will be demolished.

Commission members Thursday said two people have indicated an interest in moving the building.

Another site to make the list is the flood-damaged Ellis A&W, a drive-in restaurant at 1136 Ellis Blvd. NW.

Thomas Smith, city staff liaison for the Historic Preservation Commission, said building owners would still have to pursue nominations for listing on the National Register, but the survey removes one hurdle for them.

Sokol, a Czech social and gymnastics organization, received a grant to fund research for its nomination, said president Brad Hess.

The Sokol building has been cleaned out, but has been boarded since the Floods of 2008 inundated the building with at least 4 feet of water.

Sokol moved to a new site at 5200 18th Ave. SW after the flood and plans to put the downtown building up for sale this spring, Hess said.

At the same time, Hess said other options are being explored that would allow the organization to keep the building and fund the $3 million needed for restoration.

“It’s a beautiful building and I think there is a lot of potential there,” he said, adding that the group wants the nomination pursued for several reasons: “to preserve the building, to preserve the (Czech) heritage and to preserve the history of Cedar Rapids.”

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