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History happenings: Changes in store at the corner of First Avenue and 15th Street SE in Cedar Rapids

Storefronts sprung up along First Avenue between 1900 and 1940

This 1973 photo shows Nassif Interiors at 1443-1447 First Ave, SE, Cedar Rapids. The store combined three one-story brick storefronts that had formerly housed (from left) the Holland Home Bakery, McRaith's ice cream shop and the Cross & Company grocery store. In recent years, the combined storefront housed The Music Loft. The storefronts, along with four adjacent older residential properties and the China Inn restaurant (a former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant) are to be demolished, with the area slated for eventual redevelopment. (The History Center)
This 1973 photo shows Nassif Interiors at 1443-1447 First Ave, SE, Cedar Rapids. The store combined three one-story brick storefronts that had formerly housed (from left) the Holland Home Bakery, McRaith's ice cream shop and the Cross & Company grocery store. In recent years, the combined storefront housed The Music Loft. The storefronts, along with four adjacent older residential properties and the China Inn restaurant (a former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant) are to be demolished, with the area slated for eventual redevelopment. (The History Center)
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Since the mid-1980s, a one-story storefront at the corner of First Avenue and 15th Street SE in Cedar Rapids had been occupied, until recently, by The Music Loft music store.

Last month, demolition permits were requested for that building and four adjacent residential properties, including an old house at 1439 First Ave. SE that has been known as the Baker Apartments since the 1920s.

In addition, a demolition permit is being sought for the commercial property where the China Inn restaurant operates at 1435 First Ave. SE. That building started out as a new Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the mid-1960s.

In their place, a new retail/residential structure is being proposed for that half-block along First Avenue East.

All eight of the properties have been part of a commercial center that stretches from the Coe College campus to 16th Street East.

Before 1900, this was strictly a residential area. Between 1900 and 1940, because of increased automobile and pedestrian traffic, many commercial buildings and storefronts were built on both sides of First Avenue East in that area. Many of the stores were attached to the fronts of existing homes.

The 1400 block of First Avenue SE also features the former Xavier’s restaurant building (once a gas station) and an Arby’s restaurant. Before March 1992, the Arby’s site was the Times movie theater building for many decades.

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STOREFRONTS COMBINED

The Music Loft building is actually a combination of three older, originally separate retail storefronts.

The oldest of those — the one closest to the corner of First Avenue and 15th Street SE — is currently covered with metal siding. The original brick structure was built in 1924 and attached to the front of an older house at 1447 First Ave. SE. It was built for a bakery operated by a Dutch American family that included August and Josephine Venhorst. Appropriately, their business was called the Holland Home Bakery.

The bakery was very successful and thrived at that location until the late 1950s. The Venhorsts’ specialties included wedding cakes and cake party rolls.

In 1934, two additional storefronts with brick facades were built next to the Holland Bakery.

The one closest to the bakery was a small space, at 1445 First Ave. SE, initially occupied by McRaith’s ice cream shop. It was a branch location for McRaith’s main store and ice cream factory, which operated near the corner of A Avenue and First Street NW in the 1930s.

The other storefront at 1443 First Ave. SE, built in 1934 next to McRaith’s, was a larger space first occupied by the Cross and Company grocery store.

Up until the mid-1940s, the residents of the nearby neighborhoods enjoyed the convenience of having a locally owned grocery store, ice cream shop and bakery all next to each other on this block.

NASSIF'S INTERIORS

By 1947, the grocery and ice cream stores had been converted into a floor covering and interior design store operated by the Nassif family of Cedar Rapids. Holland Bakery continued to operate on the corner.

In the late 1950s, Holland Bakery moved to the former Naxera Bakery down the street at 1539 First Ave. SE and continued to operate under that name, with new ownership by the Debel family, until closing in the 1970s at that latter location.

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By the early 1960s, all three First Avenue storefronts functioned as one store for what was known as Nassif’s Interior Designs for many years. Colonial Revival style elements were applied to the fronts of the 1924 and 1934 facades.

Nassif’s Interiors continued to operate in these brick storefronts — painted white — at 1443-1447 First Ave. SE until about 1984, when the Erickson family opened The Music Loft.

For a while in the late 1980s, The Music Loft was neighbor to Thompson’s Television store and repair, which was in the 1443 storefront.

By the early 1990s all three formerly separate storefronts were used by the Music Loft.

Mark Stoffer Hunter is a research historian for The History Center in Cedar Rapids. Comments: mark@historycenter.org

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