116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A blighted block in Cedar Rapids’ southwest quadrant is being transformed into a multicolored symbol of LGBTQ inclusion.
Local developer Eric Gutschmidt’s company, Gutschmidt Properties, is working over the next two years to create “Rainbow Road,” a string of 10 houses on M Street SW between 10th and 12th avenues SW that will be painted in the colors of the rainbow.
Before the August 2020 derecho toppled thousands of trees across the city, a tree canopy shielded this neighborhood from the view of passing motorists on Interstate 380.
“This is a part of town that in particular has been really neglected and overlooked for generations,” Gutschmidt said.
He said big “hateful” signs are sometimes visible on road trips around other parts of Iowa, but this colorful block that represents love and acceptance will be visible from I-380.
“People are going to drive by this, and this is definitely not a symbol of hate — in fact, it’s the opposite,” Gutschmidt said.
In 2019, his team bought and renovated a house on Eighth Avenue SW and repainted two exterior, street-facing walls in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet stripes — plus black and brown to represent people of color. What’s commonly known as the “Rainbow House” is now used as an event space and vacation rental.
Gutschmidt said “this is who we are” of the symbols of LGBTQ inclusion. His staff is mostly LGBTQ and he has many LGBTQ tenants, without whom he said his business would not exist. This is a way to “give back a little bit to the community,” he added.
“A lot of modern discrimination is quiet,” marketing director Ben Kaplan said. “We like to be loud about the fact that we don’t.”
Kaplan said of the 10 single-family houses, four will have three units. The houses will be built with double accessory-dwelling units — one upstairs as well as apartments in the back of the lot atop three-stall garages. All will be rentals.
Gutschmidt had a booth last Saturday at the Cedar Rapids Pride Fest letting people know about his plans for “Rainbow Road.” He invited people to write down suggestions to name each of the houses, which his team will soon vote on.
The first house on the block is the “Pretty in Pink” house, 924 M St. SW. The rest of the names are undecided, but it seems almost certain the lavender house next door will be dubbed the “Lavender Lexi Belle” house after the popular local drag queen.
Right now, these houses are just identified by their street numbers, Gutschmidt said, but the names show each has a personality and story.
“When the pizza delivery guy comes up, I don’t want them to come up to No. 940,” Gutschmidt said. “I want them to come up to the Lavender Lexi Belle house.”
Gutschmidt, who owns properties around the city, said he has seen that painting houses such as the historic Perkins House in Wellington Heights, which he bought in 2017, signals to a neighborhood that it is worth investing in.
It also could empower other nearby homeowners to make more bold choices with their exterior paint colors, he said.
“Just with intention, we can make this neighborhood an amenity instead of what it was when we bought it, which was blight,” Gutschmidt said.
His team may put flowers in front of the houses that match the exterior color and do no-mow yards to create pollinator spaces that benefit the environment.
Kaplan said the typically older houses the company renovates get upgrades for energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and costs for tenants.
Instead of having fences to divide the lots, a courtyard in the center of the houses will provide a communal space, Gutschmidt said.
He said his team also is in the process of working to convert green space owned by Alliant Energy into a dog park to provide an amenity for the neighborhood.
“It’s designed to encourage that to be a walkable neighborhood,” Gutschmidt said. “The big piece of that is giving people somewhere to be walking to.”
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