116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The June 1907 Gazette carried news of a “magnificently equipped printing establishment” that had just opened in Cedar Rapids.
Torch Press, founded by Luther A. Brewer, would operate for the next 55 years, gaining national attention for its specialized work in printing fine books, some filled with engravings, others printed on imported, watermarked rag paper, bound in leather with gilt-edged pages.
The company’s clients included individuals, publishing companies and universities.
In 1911, an article in the New York Times literary section said, “The Torch Press, in its Iowa home, is one of the many establishments widely scattered over this country which deserve much praise for the love and skill and pains with which they hold high the standard of their craft.”
Though the company’s specialty was fine book making, it also printed stationery, wedding invitations, letterheads and sale bills.
Brewer, who had worked in the job and bindery department at the Cedar Rapids Republican newspaper, opened Torch Press in a two-story building at 515 Second St. SE in June 1907.
He had three job presses from the Miehle Printing Press & Manufacturing Co. in Chicago and two Gordon “jobbers” or platen presses.
Brewer hired W.H. Miner of Cleveland, Ohio, to manage the Torch Press Book Shop. A little less than two months later, Brewer closed a deal that had Torch printing the Republican morning newspaper. The Gazette, a rival newspaper, reported the transaction involved $100,000.
With the newspaper contract, Brewer needed a bigger building and would begin construction of a four-story, 80-by-52-foot building at 324 Third St. SE in October.
The Carnegie Co. of Pennsylvania put up the steel frame. Bricks came from Chicago. The roof went on, and the steam plant was installed so work could continue during the 1907-08 winter.
The work was done by the spring of 1908, less than a year after Brewer opened the business.
The new press in the basement could be seen through windows on the Third Street side. The basement also had mailing rooms, a room for carriers, a stock room and a boiler room.
The first floor, fronting on Third Street, housed the business offices and a job press room big enough to handle 10-cylinder presses.
Editorial staffers occupied the front of the second floor. The newspaper and job composing rooms were behind them, in a space twice the size of the former quarters. Finished Linotype pages were sent to the press in the basement via an elevator.
The third floor was reserved for rare old books and a mail order business. The bindery filled the fourth floor.
Brewer, the sole owner of the Torch Press and partner in Republican Printing, became sole owner of the newspaper in 1913 when veteran editor and co-owner Cyrenus Cole retired.
Brewer sold the Republican to Col. William G. Dows in 1922 and sold a half interest in Torch Press to Edward F. Misak and William M. Deacon. He retained ownership of the Torch Press building.
The Gazette bought the Republican newspaper in 1927.
Brewer, who possessed one of the finest private libraries in the Midwest, sold his interests in Torch Press in January 1929 to Misak and Deacon.
He planned to devote himself to book collecting and travel. He died May 6, 1933, at age 74, two months after his wife, Elinore Taylor Brewer, died.
Misak bought the Torch Press building from the Brewer estate in 1936.
Torch Press celebrated 50 years of book publishing in 1957. Hundreds of books covering those years lined the walls of the company’s library.
By the late 1950s, though, Torch Press was producing books that were far less expensive.
On April 25, 1962, a legal notice appeared in The Gazette announcing the dissolution of Torch Press.
The Torch building was bought by the Cedar Rapids Art Association for $53,500 in December 1963. The association remodeled it and moved its art collection into it from the public library’s second floor.
“The concrete and steel construction makes the building practically fireproof, which is a necessity for an art center,” association President Richard McGinn said.
In 1965, the Torch building became the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
The art museum moved out of the Torch building in 1987, putting its collections to storage while awaiting completion of a new $8 million museum attached to the Carnegie library on Third Avenue and Fifth Street SE. (The public library had moved to First Street SE in 1985.)
Richard Brue of Iowa City bought the Torch Press building at auction for $310,000 and turned it into an office building.
The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation bought the building in 2009 and renovated it following damage from the 2008 flood.