When it was built in 1923, the house known as the Ideal Electric Home in southeast Cedar Rapids featured cutting-edge technology and top-of-the-line design.
Electricity still was a novelty — according to the National Park Service, only half of U.S. homes had electric power in 1925 — but the Washington Avenue house featured an electric fireplace, wiring for radios that could play throughout the house, closets with lights that turned on automatically when the door opened, and more.
The house was the collective effort of Cedar Rapids-area contractors, who all came together to build a model home showing off their wares and skills.
“It was almost a Parade home for the time. They were showing off the technology of the time,” said the home’s current owner, Mark Hanson.
From the exterior brick by King’s Crown Plaster Co. to the wood floors, trim and window frames by Disbrow Sash & Door Co., the house was meant to display the craftsmanship prospective Cedar Rapids homebuilders could then commission for their own homes. The contractors produced a brochure for their Ideal Home, which Hanson has a copy of.
When Hanson bought the house in 2014, it had sat vacant for about 30 years, as the previous owner had moved out but kept the property. Hanson lives in Florida but owns a house in Cedar Rapids and has renovated several historic homes in the area. He bought and renovated the first one in 2000, after it went for sale across the street from his grandmother’s home off Mount Vernon Road.
“I have an appreciation for the original craftsmanship and thought that went into these homes. They were custom built, one of a kind,” he said.
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He rents the Ideal Electric Home to Brad Lindley and Lindley’s daughter. Lindley previously lived on Blake Boulevard SE, and he said when they moved they knew they wanted to find another historic home.
“I just like the quality of materials and construction that were put into historic homes,” he said. “Newer homes just feel a little bit more Spartan. It’s the neighborhood, too. I just like this type of neighborhood with the mature trees. You can go out for a walk or a run, and it’s just nice.”
Though Hanson updated the wiring when he renovated the home after buying it in 2014, many of the details still are intact. In the kitchen, an exhaust fan that looks straight out of the 1960s but was original to the house still whirs to life near the ceiling. Throughout the home, the original decorative light fixtures add charm.
The evidence of other electrical innovations also remains. A button on the trim of the second-floor sleeping porch was for calling a maid — the house had a similar button on the floor of the dining room, which rang into the kitchen.
The second story features two bathrooms, unusual for the 1920s. The master suite, with its own bathroom, dressing room and attached sleeping porch, could be closed off from the rest of the floor.
Other details still show off the home’s original character, from the wood floors, which had been covered with carpet, to the restored wooden windows, which were built with zinc strips in the sashes to prevent drafts. Hanson made some updates, such as adding a powder room half-bath on the first floor and converting the fireplace with a gas insert. He added central air, but kept the radiators that provide radiant heat throughout the home.
“It was a delicate process,” he said.
Overall, he tried to let the home’s history shine through.
“Some of these homes have been augmented to the point where there’s not much you can do with them, they’ve lost so much of their original charm,” he said. “But I’ve been finding these homes that have beautiful architectural and interior details.”
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