The large residential structure at 824 Third Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids is facing demolition after March 1 to accommodate expansion of Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa.
This grand old structure dates back to 1884 when it was built as a home for the Charles H. Clark family. Clark was the register for the Iowa Railroad Land Co. in Cedar Rapids when the home was built, and he was later vice president of the Clark-MacDanel Co., manufacturers of overalls, pants and shirts, also in Cedar Rapids.
The Clark home was one of many large Cedar Rapids residences in the 1880s — including what is now known as Brucemore — designed by the celebrated architectural team of Josselyn and Taylor. Much of the architect’s original design elements still can be seen on the Clark home’s exterior, including a Corinthian-style column.
The Clark “mansion” was one of more than 150 large homes built on Cedar Rapids’ celebrated “Mansion Hill,” an area that began near the railroad tracks on First Avenue East in the 1860s. It was primarily developed between the late 1870s and 1905 along both First and Second avenues between the railroad tracks and 12th Street SE; the 800 blocks of Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues SE; and A Avenue NE from the tracks to Eighth Street NE. The “top” of Mansion Hill is where the Scottish Rite Temple stands today on A Avenue NE.
The initial residents of those palatial homes — members of the Bever, Douglas, Dows, Van Vechten, Hull, Preston, Ives, Cook, Faulkes and Soutter families, among others — are a virtual “Who’s Who” of Cedar Rapids development history.
By 1930, rapid expansion of the downtown business district, followed by extensive construction of automobile-related businesses when the Lincoln Highway was routed through this area, resulted in the destruction of a great number of these late 19th century mansions. Most of the remaining mansions were demolished in the 30 years following World War II.
Some of the Mansion Hill homes have been moved over the years, most notably the Armstrong residence, which was cut in two halves in 1928 and moved from 1008 Second Ave. SE to Blake Boulevard and Forest Drive SE. In recent years, the Glenn Averill stucco-covered residence was moved from 1115 Second Ave. SE to 616 Fourth Ave. SE. The 1897 home built for Luther and Elinor Brewer was moved in 2014 from 847 Fourth Ave. SE to 616 Tenth Ave. SE.
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Members of the Clark family lived at 824 Third Ave. SE through 1953. Like many former mansions, the Clark home was then converted into apartments. The 1884 front porch was removed and never replaced. Loren’s Beauty Salon occupied part of the first floor in the late 1950s. From the 1960s through the 1990s, an accounting and bookkeeping office shared the house along with the apartments.
If the former Clark residence is demolished, it will leave only five mansions still standing in their original locations on Mansion Hill:
• John Thomas mansion, 857 Third Ave. SE (now an office and rectory for Immaculate Conception Catholic Church)
• Severa mansion, 849 Third Ave. SE (apartments).
• Carpenter mansion, 821 Third Ave. SE, (a funeral home at one time and, more recently, the Fusion restaurant).
• Arthur T. Averill mansion, 1120 Second Ave. SE (offices).
• Douglas mansion, 800 Second Ave. SE, currently being restored and renovated for The History Center.
The structure at 800 First Ave. NE may look like an old mansion, but it was built as a commercial property — initially the Claussen Funeral Temple — and designed to blend in architecturally with the mansions.
The author is a research historian for The History Center in Cedar Rapids.