Pedestrian bridge group wants to recreate 'iconic' Sinclair smokestack

'A very iconic landmark for the community'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The old 193-foot-tall Sinclair smokestack — a landmark in Cedar Rapids for more than a century and one of the tallest smokestacks in Iowa — could be replicated as the new focal point of the planned Sleeping Giant pedestrian bridge over the Cedar River.

The smokestack stood at the old T.M. Sinclair & Co. slaughterhouse about a mile south of downtown and 100 feet from a railroad bridge knocked down in the 2008 flood.

A 2009 fire destroyed the meatpacking plant, which had changed hands several times and ceased operations in 1990.

Residents fought hard to save the iconic 1909-built smokestack, but the leaning, cylindrical pillar was considered an imminent danger and, with a $1 million-plus price tag to stabilize, too costly to preserve. It was demolished along with the plant. Backers say incorporating the smokestack design in the bridge will help connect the present with the past.

“This gives us more of a chance to tell our stories,” said Steve Sovern, an advocate for the bridge on behalf of the Southside Investment Board. “Because there was such a significant effort to save it, we think this will create more enthusiasm for what we are trying to do.”

The smokestack pays homage to the area’s industrial heritage, one of the city’s largest early employers, railroad history and the long-gone Stumptown village near Mount Trashmore where meatpacking plant workers lived, Sovern said.

“This is about connecting neighborhoods. It’s about connecting history to today and tomorrow. It’s about connecting trails,” Sovern said.

The Sleeping Giant pedestrian bridge has been in planning for several years. Last year, proponents released designs for a 125-foot-long, twin-deck, cable-stayed bridge using the piers of the old Rock Island Railroad Bridge.

The idea to incorporate the smokestack surfaced earlier this year.

Sovern said he’d received positive feedback about the design, but a recurring theme was how it looked similar to bridges in other cities. To make a mark, the bridge would need to be uniquely local, he said.

Sovern credited Jennifer Pratt, the city’s community development director, with suggesting the smokestack idea during a meeting with project leaders. She said the smokestack pays homage to the industrial past and could be an important element for a community that was pained to see the smokestack go.

But, in Pratt’s words, she simply asked a question and the team ran with it.

“I just think it is important to really give the authenticity of why this bridge would be here in Cedar Rapids,” Pratt said. “While it will be a stunning bridge, great architecture, it is also a piece that is uniquely Cedar Rapids.”

The bridge is an element of an encompassing effort called ConnectCR, which also includes restoring Cedar Lake north of downtown into a recreational amenity and trails connecting the lake and bridge. The total vision is estimated to cost $20 million, of which the city has committed $5 million in matching funds.

The smokestack would stand in the center of the pedestrian bridge supporting cables suspending down to the deck. While the smokestack is much taller than an earlier design, which was 125 feet tall, it is simpler from an engineering perspective and could save money, Sovern said.

Sovern said officials want to replicate down to small details as best they can the smokestack built by Radial Brick Chimney for the T.M. Sinclair Co.

The original brick smokestack sat on an octagonal-shaped base 31 feet in diameter. Above that was the 41-foot-tall base of the smokestack, which was made of hard Chicago brick. The chimney extended upward from the base, made of glazed, yellow-brown fireclay bricks, according to Gazette archives.

The 6-1/2-foot-tall lettering, declaring “Sinclair” and “Fidelity,” was literally baked in when the bricks were fired. Those letters were later painted over with “Wilson & Co.” The new design would not have lettering but could use LED lights to emblazon words on the tower.

The smokestack was memorable.

“The handsome shaft attracts the attention of travelers both entering and leaving Cedar Rapids by the Northwestern and Rock Island roads, advertising in a practical manner the fact that this is one of the growing manufacturing cities of the great Middle West,” the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette reported after the smokestack was built.

Ann Poe, a member of the Cedar Rapids City Council, heard a presentation about the new concept on Wednesday. She reflected on how people in Stumptown used the old railroad bridge to connect the east and west side of the river, and the new bridge will play an important role in connecting the community.

“People will come because of this,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I want to go down there and see that.’ This just gives me goose bumps.”

Mark Stoffer Hunter, an historian for The History Center, touted the historical significance.

“I think this is a way to make people in the community feel better about the loss of the smokestack,” Stoffer Hunter said. “I think it would be a very historic project. I think it would immediately become a very iconic landmark for the community.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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