Remembering Cooper's Mill, Village Inn Motel and the old F Avenue NW commercial area

Flood of 2008 impacted many buildings

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The demolition of the Best Western Motel and Cooper’s Mill restaurant building at 100 F Ave. NW is underway in Cedar Rapids.

The building opened in 1972 as The Village Inn Motel, featuring a cocktail lounge named Waterfront Mary’s. Mary Cottrell was the manager of the lounge, and Mary Pike appeared nightly at the piano bar.

A highlight of the new downtown motel was the Pancake House Restaurant, which specialized in 25 varieties of waffles and pancakes. The Pancake House was open until 3 a.m. seven days a week, making it a popular late-night stop.

A notable feature of the new four-story motel was its large, rooftop, red neon sign that anticipated the arrival of the new Interstate 380 freeway that was built near the motel in 1977 and 1978. A large, bright yellow Best Western Motels sign, with its signature “crown,” was visible above the red neon Village Inn letters.

In 1993, the Village Inn Motel was sold to the local DeLong family, longtime owners and operators of the Longbranch Motor Inn on Twixt Town Road NE near the Cedar Rapids & Marion line. The family changed the name from motel to hotel.

PANCAKE HOUSE

Two years later, the The Pancake House restaurant also came under ownership of the DeLongs. A contest was initiated to rename the restaurant, and Cooper’s Mill was selected, a reference to one of the early Cedar Rapids mills that once stood just below the Cedar River dam along the east side of the river in the late 19th century.

Cooper’s Mill restaurant became a local favorite, the walls of the interior highlighted by wonderful, blown-up photos of historic Cedar Rapids.

The flood of June 2008 virtually destroyed the building’s first floor, including the restaurant, lounge and 10 motel rooms.

The decision to rebuild was made, and the hotel and restaurant reopened by the end of 2009, helping to bring back a sense of normalcy and recovery for Cedar Rapids.

But another flood in September 2016 led to the decision to sell the facility to the city of Cedar Rapids. The site will become part of the flood control system for northwest Cedar Rapids.

URBAN RENEWAL

When the Village Inn Motel was built in 1972, it was part of a Cedar Rapids urban renewal project.

Starting in the late 1960s and continuing through 1973, the older structures between the Cedar River and Third Street NW and between A Avenue NW and I (“Eye”) Avenue NW were demolished, with the exceptions of the Souvenir Pencil Co. and the old Sanitary Dairy plant (later Swiss Family Dairy).

New structures built within this urban renewal area, in addition to the motel, included new buildings for Shive-Hattery architects and engineers and Allied Glass along First Street NW. All of these newer structures, and the Souvenir and Swiss Valley facilities, were destroyed in the 2008 flood.

F AVENUE BUSINESSES

Before the late 1960s, F Avenue NW from the Cedar River to Third Street NW was a significant neighborhood commercial center. The area was created when the first bridge over the river connecting F Avenue NW with B Avenue NE was built in 1875.

By 1905, at least 20 storefronts were situated along F Avenue NW. Businesses included three saloons, two grocery stores, Lazio’s fruit store, Clark candy store, Ring Bros. Hardware and a bowling alley. Adjacent to the bridge was the old Hawkeye Lumber and Coal Co.

In 1914, construction began on a new F Avenue NW/B Avenue NE bridge over the Cedar River, as well as a new dam, The Hawkeye Lumber Co. continued to operate next to the new bridge and dam, advertising that it was the best “Yard by a Dam Site.”

Small retail businesses continued to thrive along F Avenue NW into the 1960s, including the F Avenue Bakery operated by the Grubhoffer family, the F Avenue Sundries operated by the Kolosik family and Dub’s King’s Palace Tavern.

Companies like Souvenir Pencil and Sanitary Dairy started and grew along F Avenue NW. The Russell Ice Cream factory operated a block away along E Avenue NW. Rinderknecht Construction Co. was located for many years in an two-story structure at 113 F Ave. NW.

All of these old F Avenue NW storefronts and their history were destroyed to make way for newer projects such as the Village Inn.

ONE BAR LEFT

Only one old F Avenue NW commercial structure survives: The two-story brick building at 301 F Ave. NW now occupied by Cedar River Landing sports bar and grill. The building started in the 1920s as the Quality Bakery.

The demolition of the Best Western/Village Inn hotel will end the history of the second of only two hotels that operated along the Cedar River’s west bank.

The first was the old Windsor Hotel at 110 First St. NW. It was a small three-story structure that started out as the Kingston Hotel in the late 1800s. It was demolished just a couple of years before the Village Inn opened in 1972. It was replaced by a Vickers gas station at the corner of First Avenue and First Street NW.

l Questions? Comments? Contact Mark Stoffer Hunter at mark@historycenter.org

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