Cedar Rapids home retains city's old sophistication
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Brucemore mansion is considered an icon of Cedar Rapids. It’s impressive facade not only captivates the imagination, but it keeps history of the city alive for its residents.
And just up the road, tucked among several other houses in the southeastern neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, is a home that shares some of its history with Brucemore.
The home is located at 2315 Linden Drive SE, an area also known as the Ridgewood neighborhood. The current owner, Bob Kontz, a retired life investor for Transamerica, put the house and its 1.3 acres of land up for sale in April. The list price as of the Sept. 1 was $339,000.
It was built in 1913 in the American craftsman style by the Iowa-based architecture firm of Henry S. Josselyn and Eugene Taylor.
28 years earlier, in 1885, Josselyn and Taylor completed the construction of Brucemore, a Queen Anne style mansion that was often called “the grandest house west of Chicago,” according to Brucemore’s website. After nearly a century of private ownership, the Brucemore estate was bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1981 and is now under the operation of a board of trustees.
Josselyn and Taylor, who entered into partnership in 1882 after studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), became one of the first major modern architectural firms in Iowa.
“They were the first professionally trained architects in Iowa,” said Mark Stoffer Hunter, historian with The History Center in Cedar Rapids. “They kind of ushered in a new era of architectural design in Cedar Rapids.”
Before the pair moved to Iowa, Stoffer Hunter said Cedar Rapids was beginning to come into its own as a sophisticated city, but could not attract well-trained architects to the area.
Josselyn and Taylor opened offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, but by 1886, they decided there was more opportunity in Eastern Iowa.
“They closed their Des Moines office and focused entirely on Cedar Rapids,” Stoffer Hunter said.
The architects were active from the 1880s through the early 1920s and helped Cedar Rapids begin the development to what it is today, Stoffer Hunter said.
“Josselyn and Taylor created a real sense of urban sophistication for Cedar Rapids,” Stoffer Hunter said. “They were really important to the development of the city. Cedar Rapids would not have taken that next step in development without them.”
It’s estimated that the pair designed at least 258 properties, including several residential properties, in Eastern Iowa — most of which has been torn down. However, Stoffer Hunter said their work can be seen in the Carnegie Library (now a part of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art), the Guaranty Bank and the Security buildings downtown and of course, 2315 Linden Dr. SE.
The connections don’t end there. The individual responsible for Brucemore’s landscaping in the early 1900s, a man named O.C. Simonds, also was the original landscaper for the home on Linden Drive SE.
Simonds, whose work across the country is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was an influential landscape architect in the regional prairie landscape movement, which utilized plants found naturally in the plains region, according to the Brucemore website.
Kontz has remnants of Josselyn and Taylor’s and Simonds’s visions for the property through an original blueprint of the grounds, depicting acres of gardens and pathways surrounding the craftsman home.
The home first housed the family of Waclav Francis Severa, often known as merely W.F. Severa.
“He has such an interesting history,” Kontz said.
Severa was born in Czechoslovakia in 1853 and came to the United States when he was 15 years old, according to the State Historical Society of Iowa.
He moved to the area in 1876, where he began work as a drugstore clerk in Belle Plaine — kicking off what that went on to lead to thriving career.
According to the State Historical Society of Iowa, Severa opened his open pharmaceutical business in Cedar Rapids in 1880 and in 1901, the retail part of his business was sold and became W.F. Severa Company, a manufacturer of proprietary medicines. These medicines, which were based on tested prescriptions, included stomach bitters, hair tonics, lung balsam and more.
Distributions of products that came to be known as Severa Family Remedies continued to expanded worldwide. At one time the Severa company’s almanacs advertising his medicines were printed in 11 languages, according to Cedar Rapids’ Oak Hill Cemetery Association, where Severa is buried.
2315 Linden Drive SE boasts three fireplaces and about 40 radiators throughout its 11 rooms — including 6 bedrooms and two and a half baths — in its 5,100 square feet. The front door leads a grand entryway with a massive oak stairway leading upstairs to the upstairs rooms, including a billiard room on the third floor.
A smaller staircase — most likely meant for servants in its early days — is tucked behind the kitchen. Kontz said a third-floor bedroom once served as the maid’s room, but it has since been expanded.
Severa lived in the home with his wife, Josephine, and their two children. After his death in 1938, the home passed to the couple’s son, Lumir Severa.
The home continued to change ownership over the years, and when Kontz bought the house in 1986, it was inhabited by renters and was in bad disrepair, he said.
“It needed a lot of work,” Kontz said. “There were just a lot of things wrong with it.”
In the 30 or so years Kontz owned the house, he has installed a new boiler, installed new gutters and repaired the roof, along with countless upgrades around the house.
The biggest project by far, however, was the complete gutting of the kitchen. A water supply pipe to an upstairs toilet burst about 20 years ago, causing the ceiling to collapse and the floor to warp from the water, Kontz said.
However, the home still retains some of its original aspects, ranging from various door handles and light fixtures to the original wood flooring on all of the floors.
The original built-in shelving and trimming also remain in the house, but a previous owner had painted them all white.
The historic nature of the home is also reflected in the antiques Kontz chose to decorate his home with. Although most of the furniture and household good have been sold in preparation for the move, the homeowner’s taste for antiques can still be seen. A vintage billiards table sits in the third floor billiards room, tea sets are scattered throughout the formal dining room and a mid-1800s square grand piano from Chickering and Sons sits in the empty living room.
A craftsman style home is known for its grand porches, which is something the Cedar Rapids home certainly does not lack in. The back of the house is dominated by a wraparound red brick deck and four season porch facing the fenced yard.
Kontz said the neglect extended to the backyard, where overgrown bushes covered most of the patio. He instead created flower beds from old railroad tracks, and installed a fire pit and a pond by the front driveway.
Ferns scatter the front yard leading to the front door, surrounding a decades-old Maple tree the Severa family had dubbed “Wilson.”
“It’s beautiful in May,” Kontz said, indicating the yard.
The big yard and the older style of home is what drew Kontz and his family, including his four young children, to the home in 1986. However, since Kontz retirement on the first of this year, the 64-year-old says he’s ready to move south to his parents’ former house in Arizona.
“It’s been a great home for my family,” Kontz said. “But it’s too big for one person.”
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