Time Machine: Enduring 'City of Five Seasons' motto replaced 'Parlor City' almost 50 years ago

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A widely traveled business man in 1887 described Cedar Rapids this way: “There is a freshness, a vivacity, a newness — paint here, new houses there, fine lawns everywhere, business houses neat, cheerful, bright and inviting, and everybody seeming to do his share in keeping the town young and active and business healthy.”

Perhaps that is why Cedar Rapids earned the nickname “Parlor City of Iowa.” In the 19th century, a parlor was the best room in the house, the place where guests were entertained.

Parlor City first appeared in print in 1890 in The Evening Gazette, but it was used in such a familiar way that it could have been around for a while.

The name was adopted by several businesses, and the Parlor City steamboat plied the waters of the Cedar River.

‘FIVE SEASONS’ ORIGIN

The nickname stuck around for almost 80 years — until 1968 when the Chamber of Commerce asked its publicity chairman, E.W. “Bill” Munsell, to come up with a new slogan for a brochure aimed at persuading people to move to the city.

Other slogans had appeared and fizzled before that: “Cedar Rapids Suits Me — It Will You,” “The City with a Soul,” and the cumbersome “Proud of Yesterday, Progressive Today, and Promising Tomorrow” slogan from a chamber contest.

Munsell, executive vice president of the Creswell, Munsell, Schubert & Zirbel advertising agency, assigned the task to the firm’s art director, Gary Anderson, and writer Ron Howes.

Anderson said later he knew the new slogan had to be unique and that he wanted to incorporate a tree, flowers or plants in the design. Munsell said he knew Anderson also would use one of his favorite colors — either burnt orange or magenta — in the creation.

The result was an orange symbol and the “City of Five Seasons” slogan.

Why five seasons? Howes explained in the accompanying brochure: “Life is the sum of all the seasons with which it is filled, growing, learning, working, enjoying. ... Here we have the time to live. The important things are only minutes away, and we spend our time doing, not going.”

In 1975, Anderson modified the logo and in 1996, the tree was changed from orange to the now-familiar green.

the arena

In 1976, a new Cedar Rapids civic center was approved, and the City Council had to name it.

Munsell, now president of CMS & Z, presented an outline and sketches to the Cedar Rapids City Council on how the Five Seasons concept could be used for the center. His idea encompassed the center, the new hotel and the Paramount in a Five Seasons package.

Hotel developer Peter Bezanson liked the idea. “We would call the hotel the Five Seasons Inn,” he said, adding he had already reserved that name for the hotel should the council select it for the community center.

Barnes O’Donnell, president of the Paramount Theatre commission, favored tying the three entities together but wondered if people would be confused about where an event would be held.

The name was adopted, but in 1979, it was apparent people were confused about the Five Seasons motto. So the concept was tweaked. The normal four seasons — spring, summer, fall and winter — replaced “growing, learning, working and enjoying.” The city’s “fifth season” remained a time to enjoy the other four.

the sculpture

In 1984, after visiting Austin, Texas, Anderson proposed a downtown plaza in Cedar Rapids with Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” as a focal point. Munsell said the idea was to reconstruct the house in the painting with a bronze sculpture of the farm couple in front. The house could contain an art gallery and a theater.

Nothing came of the idea, but Anderson’s quest for a plaza as a tourist drawing card took root in 1995 in the form of a three-dimensional, five-story, stainless steel rendition of the Five Seasons logo.

Because the city was still recovering from the 1993 flood and had to cut 100 jobs, no city funds were available for the project. Financing had to come from the private sector.

The sculpture garnered $250,000 in pledges by September 1995.

Munsell co-chaired the committee that raised twice that amount. The goal was to have the tree completed before the 1996 Olympic torch relay came through Cedar Rapids on May 30. .

SOME DETRACTORS

The Tree of Five Seasons was not without controversy. Mel Andringa, chairman of the City Visual Arts Commission, said the tree was public art and had not gone through the proper steps to be constructed on public property.

Anderson, by then a senior vice president at what was now Creswell, Munsell, Fultz & Zirbel, said it was a marketing tool for the city and not public art. Munsell backed him up, saying the sculpture was a “three-dimensional extension of a 20-year-old trademark.”

Questions about the life span of a city motto and logo were deflected by its ardent supporters.

On April 18, 1996, the Tree of Five Seasons was dedicated. The final cost was $650,000. More money was raised to maintain the site. And, after the flood of 2008 damaged the tree, it was repaired with a new plaza around it.

50 years later

These days, the Five Seasons identity has receded a bit. The Five Seasons Center is now the U.S. Cellular Center. The Visitors and Convention Bureau (now GO Cedar Rapids) changed its focus in 2009 to “where your experience starts.” The downtown hotel name changed in 2011 to the DoubleTree by Hilton.

Still, all city publications, signs and website carry the tree logo and “City of Five Seasons” slogan.

Anderson, who created the enduring symbol, died in 2014 at the age of 76. At the time, Mayor Ron Corbett said the Tree of Five Seasons sculpture was one of the first pieces of public art in Cedar Rapids, “leading the way for additional public art” in the city.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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