116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The demolition of historically significant homes in Cedar Rapids could lead to the formation of a new group.
Mark Stoffer Hunter, an expert in Cedar Rapids history, said he hopes something positive can come out of the demolition of immigrant worker homes at Fifth Street and 12
Stoffer Hunter called the homes a top preservation priority after the June 2008 flood, but four of the seven cottages were slated to be razed Tuesday.
The others could soon follow.
“Everyone always expects someone else to get involved and do something about it,” he said, noting that many people expressed support for saving the homes, which were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
With that in mind, Stoffer Hunter said he hoped a Friends of Historic Preservation group could be organized in Cedar Rapids, similar to one in Iowa City.
That non-profit group is dedicated to preserving historic buildings and neighborhoods of Iowa City and Johnson County.
Built in the 1880s, the cottages across from St. Wenceslaus Church, 1224 Fifth St. SE, served as housing for immigrants working at the Sinclair meatpacking plant and a nearby carriage factory, Stoffer Hunter said.
A friend of plant owner Thomas Sinclair from Ireland developed the homes, but Czech immigrants likely lived there, he said, calling the seven cottages the sole remaining example of worker homes built in a row in Cedar Rapids.
Jeff Reinhard, field operations manager for Family Environmental, said the homes are being demolished under the city's imminent threat list.
Nearly 700 buildings, considered a threat to health and safety because of structural damage or environmental hazards, are being demolished with money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Those buildings do not undergo scrutiny by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, which reviews structures more than 50 years old that are slated for demolition.
At the time the City Council adopted the rule to bypass the commission in 2008, homes on the imminent threat list were ones that had sustained serious structural damage. That list has since grown to include buildings that have mold, which preservationists say could easily be cleaned.
“I think there are going to be regrets about this two to three years down the road,” Stoffer Hunter said of the demolitions.
Not only are the homes a historical loss, preservationists say, but most of those being razed are working class homes that could be rebuilt for far less than what a new home costs to build.
Not everyone is sorry to see the cottages go.
The Rev. Chris Podhajsky said even before the flood, St. Wenceslaus leaders had discussed using the area for a park or a round-about with a statue.
“It's sad,” he said of the forthcoming demolitions. “But it will be nicer for the church to have empty lots rather than broken down buildings across the street.”