Time Machine: The Bachman building goes from Cedar Rapids saloon to bank to Hawaiian music to parking ramp

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In 1893, the Mittvalsky and Bachman building stood near the northwest corner of First Street and Third Avenue SE where CRST International’s parking garage now sits in Cedar Rapids.

It was a two-story, two-business brick structure backing up to the Cedar River. The north half belonged to the estate of an esteemed butcher, Frank Mittvalsky; the south part was owned by Charles C. Bachman.

It housed H.H. Euken’s grocery and the Zalesky saloon on the ground floor; the upper floor held a dressmaking shop, a law office and some rented rooms.

The roof of the building was shiplap overlaid by tin, fastened to 1-by-12 joists with wire shingle nails. A violent windstorm in July 1893 caught a corner of the roof and ripped off about 16 feet of it, depositing it on Third Avenue SE. Some of the tin from the roof landed on the small, one-story frame building next door that housed the Bachman saloon.

Charles’ brother, Henry Bachman, repaired the buildings and apparently took full ownership of the larger one. In 1902, he remodeled it, moving a partition back about 6 feet, putting in a plate-glass front, a corner entrance and paved sidewalks. The building housed his “sample room” — where people could sample beers and liquors before buying them in quantity, a step up from the average saloon.

The City Council in 1911 decided many of the structures along the Cedar River on First Street were in need of improvements. When Henry applied for a renewal of his saloon permit, the city demanded that he rebuild.

He agreed. He sold the old, wood-frame saloon on the corner to J.W. Pusteoska, who moved it to Seventh Avenue and 10th Street SE.

Henry built a new Bachman building for $15,000 and opened a new sample room in it in November 1912. He then sold the building in July 1913, just before he retired.

As a tribute to his good reputation in Cedar Rapids, The Gazette wrote, “He is one of Cedar Rapids’ best citizens, and he has a host of friends who hope that he will decide not to leave this city where he is so well-liked and so generally esteemed. Henry Bachman is the type of citizen that Cedar Rapids is glad to keep.”

The Bachman building was again sold in 1919 to a group of local businessmen who organized a new bank.

They opened the Corn Belt Savings Bank — “a pretty banking room,” The Gazette reported — on Saturday, Jan. 31, 1920.

The bank was “a cosmopolitan institution, a bank which will eliminate class and extend a welcome hand especially for the patronage of the working man,” the Evening Gazette reported.

The bank was filled with bouquets and congratulatory notes from competitors, and bank officers spent most of the day receiving good wishes from the many people who came through the door.

The bank’s first depositor was George Davis, the young son of a local farmer. The next customer, Albert Horst, cashed his paycheck from the Rock Island Railroad.

The bank opened with $100,000 in capital, with a surplus of $10,000.

Joseph J. Sadowsky Jr., formerly with the Cedar Rapids Savings Bank, became the new bank’s cashier and manager. Edward K. Diehl left Peoples’ Savings Bank of Center Point to become assistant cashier. Other officers were Philip Liebsohn, president; F.G. Kristensen, first vice president; and P.M. Davis, second vice president.

The bank’s outlook was upbeat, but by 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, it closed.

A state bank examiner took over on Nov. 24. It was the first time a Cedar Rapids Bank belonging to the Clearing House Association had closed.

The last Clearing House report from the bank, issued 10 days before, showed deposits of $475,152 and assets of $807,501. Those assets included $144,000 from the Board of Education, $35,000 from Linn County and $20,000 from the city. The public funds were repaid in full through the state Lovrien-Brookhart law that created a fund to refund public deposits in closed banks.

Though the bank was struggling, another business in town was beginning to thrive and would eventually take over the Bachman building in 1936.

The Honolulu Conservatory of Music opened at 300 First Ave. West in 1930. It was part of the Oahu Publishing Co., established by Harry G. Stanley in the late 1920s in Cleveland, Ohio. As one of the country’s early franchises, the company capitalized on the popularity of Hawaiian music.

The franchises offered lessons and sold Hawaiian steel and acoustic guitars, made mainly by Kay and Rickenbacker, sheet music and accessories. The teachers often gave performances in the communities where they lived.

The Cedar Rapids Conservatory moved to the Paramount Theatre building on Third Avenue SE in 1933, moving to the vacant bank building three years later.

While opening new studios, the Oahu company also was battling copycat dealers who tried to infringe on their franchises. In ads warning customers of fraudulent dealers, Oahu offered prospective students a free guitar when they enrolled at their local Honolulu Conservatory.

At one point, 1,200 conservatories operated in the country. Iowa franchises, besides Cedar Rapids, included ones in Council Bluffs, Mason City, Davenport, Muscatine and Oelwein.

M. Dee Keeney bought the Cedar Rapids franchise from Oahu, along with about three dozen others, and renamed them Keeney’s Guitar and Accordion Studios.

He continued to operate music studios in Cedar Rapids and other cities after Oahu closed in 1985. He moved out of the Corn Belt Bank building when it was demolished in 1961 to make way for the city’s first municipal parking ramp, the First Street Parkade, which featured a spiral exit ramp that extended over the Cedar River. The ramp came down in 2011.

Comments or ideas for columns: (319) 398-8338; d,fannonlangton@gmail.com

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