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History Happenings: The Bever block in Cedar Rapids

Homes gave way to commercial properties as the city grew

This 1886 picture shows the James L. Bever Sr. home at 427 First Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids. The home, one of the first big brick houses in the city, was demolished in 1927 and replaced with a gasoline service station as the city's commercial center grew and residences moved farther out. (The History Center)
This 1886 picture shows the James L. Bever Sr. home at 427 First Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids. The home, one of the first big brick houses in the city, was demolished in 1927 and replaced with a gasoline service station as the city's commercial center grew and residences moved farther out. (The History Center)
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The 95-year-old Bever Building at 417 First Ave. SE in downtown Cedar Rapids is scheduled to be demolished soon.

The story of this historic structure was wonderfully told in Diane Fannon-Langton’s Time Machine column of April 2, 2017.

Two other structures at 421 and 427 First Ave. SE, next to the Bever Building, also are scheduled to be torn down. The story of these two single-story buildings and the site where they stand is an interesting piece of Cedar Rapids history.

THE BEVER HOMES

In 1869, two homes stood on what is now the 400 block of First Avenue SE.

One was built in the 1850s and was located at what is now 411 First Ave. SE. This was the home of notable pioneer businessman Sampson Cicero Bever and his family. Bever, often in partnership with Judge George Greene, helped establish the first railroad to Cedar Rapids in 1859 and open the city’s first bank and St. Luke’s Hospital.

 

Bever’s early home was removed and replaced in 1886 by a heavy-duty brick office structure for the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern (BCR&N) Railroad. The building now houses offices for the Skogman companies.

The second home on the block was built at what is now 427 First Ave. SE, closer to the corner of what is now Fifth Street SE. It was initially occupied by James L. Bever Sr., son of Sampson. It was one of the earliest large brick houses in the city in the 1860s. Members of the Bever family lived there through 1901.

The venerable home was then converted into a boardinghouse, presumably for travelers who frequented the nearby railroad stations. Mrs. Fannie Madigan managed the boardinghouse at least through 1910.

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In 1914, the old Bever home was converted into a Turkish bath House operated by a Dr. William Collins. A year later, the Collins Turkish bath & Massage suddenly became the Collins Institute, listed in the Cedar Rapids City Directory as a sanitarium.

Directories also show that a private ambulance garage was operating in the rear of the property within the old Bever carriage house along the alley.

The Collins Sanitarium and Turkish Baths, however, were short-lived. By 1917, the old Bever home was listed again as a boardinghouse.

COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS

Things really changed on the block in 1923 when the new Bever Building was built at 417 First Ave. SE and a one-story retail structure was built at 421 First Ave. SE.

The old brick Bever home remained standing for at least a few more years, standing just a few inches away from the new storefront at 421. It continued as a boardinghouse, but the former backyard of the property was converted into an early gasoline filling station known as Manhattan Oil Co., with an address of 111 Fifth St. SE.

By 1928, the old Bever home, now over 60 years old, had been demolished. The Manhattan Oil Company built a brick-faced gasoline service station facing First Avenue on the site.

The older gas station at the rear of the property was removed and became the location of a temporary restaurant building, with the 111 Fifth St. SE address. From 1928 to 1941, restaurants such as Charlie’s Sandwich Shop and the Bungalow Eat Shop occupied the little structure near the alley behind the gas station.

AUTO BUSINESSES

The brick gas station at 427 First Ave. SE was a full-service filling station that sold Phillips 66 gasoline for many decades.

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From 1957 through the late 1960s, the service station was known as “Brownie’s 66,” an affectionate reference to owner Mark Brown.

In the 1970s, the building was a used car center.

The 1980s saw the continuation of auto repair service, starting with Orange Tire, then Boubin Muffler & Brake Shop and finally Albert Auto until it closed in February of this year.

The storefront at 421 First Ave. SE, next to the Bever Building, started as a vacuum cleaner store in 1923.

 

The building was later occupied by the East Side Fish Market in the mid 1920s, Albert’s Dry Cleaners during the 1930s and eventually the Warner Photo Studio by the early 1960s.

About 1975, Zuber’s Sound Around Stereo Shop started its retail store here.

By 1989, a few years after Zuber’s closed, the building became the home of the Sub City sandwich shop. Sub City continued to operate there for over 25 years, closing in December 2017.

Mark Stoffer Hunter is a research historian for The History Center in Cedar Rapids.

l Comments: mark@historycenter.org

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