116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
People often ask Sienna Nawaz if the house she lives in is haunted.
She's never seen a ghost, but there is enough history at 821 Third Ave. SE that she knows why they're asking.
One of few surviving original homes from 'Mansion Hill,” the house was a private residence for one of early Cedar Rapids' wealthiest families and then a funeral home for around 60 years before being converted into a restaurant in the early 1980s.
All that history will be on display soon - the house will be included on a historic walking tour of the city being developed by the City of Cedar Rapids, the Historic Preservation Commission and The History Center.
Jeff Hintz, a planner in the city's Community Development Department, said the idea for the tour started with the Cleveland Area Neighborhood Association, which wanted to set up a walking tour as a way to get people engaged and moving in their neighborhood. The city liked the idea and decided to expand it.
The citywide tour will include at least 175 sites, homes and businesses, and more could be added in the future. Each will have a plaque describing its significance.
'Some you may not think of as historic, necessarily, but they have a story to tell,” Hintz said.
He said the city hopes to begin installing signs this summer and developing an online map - each sign will have a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone to connect with the website, where people will be able to find more information about each historic site.
Sienna and her husband, Jawad Nawaz, opened their restaurant Fusion at the house in August 2016 and moved into the living area above the restaurant. They get a lot of questions about the history, Sienna said, so she's excited to be on the tour.
Built in 1870, according to the Cedar Rapids Assessor's office, the house totals nearly 5,900 square feet. Mark Stoffer Hunter of the Cedar Rapids History Center collected information on the property, which was first occupied by Maria Carpenter, widow of prominent businessman Gabriel Carpenter.
The Carpenters were a prominent Cedar Rapids family who owned and helped develop most of the current Oak Hill and New Bohemia neighborhoods, including much of the land that is now Oak Hill Cemetery on Mount Vernon Road. They built the house to allow the Cedar Rapids Community School District to build a new elementary building at their old homes' site, which now is Metro High School.
In the early 1920s, the Carpenter house was converted into a funeral home. Beatty Funeral Home operated there until the early 1980s, and the building is one of only two surviving former funeral homes downtown - the other is the future home of The History Center, 800 Second Ave. SE.
In the late 1980s, Gary Dvorak converted it into a restaurant, Cafe de Klos, before it became Daniel Arthur's, a steakhouse that closed in 2014. When the Nawazes opened Fusion, which primarily serves Indian food and hosts live music and other events in its lounge, they kept many of Daniel Arthur's mermaid decorations - the mystical sea creatures are prevalent from a statue outside to the Mermaid Lounge bar at the back of the space.
The couple are hoping to buy the building this year. In the meantime, they are revamping their restaurant's menu. They began by serving a 'fusion” mix of Indian, American and Mexican food, but are planning to move to primarily Indian food soon.
The restaurant's nautical motif continues throughout the apartment, with mermaid paintings and statues tucked into corners. Wood paneling and portholes in doors give a shipboard feel.
With high ceilings and tall windows, the rooms in the upstairs living quarters maintain their mansion-like appeal with plenty of modern updates such as a gas insert in the living room fireplace, a convection oven and restaurant-grade cook top in the kitchen and a Whirlpool tub in the bathroom. A functional elevator takes advantage of an elevator shaft original to the house.
The couple had put in a bid on another house while they looked for places to open their restaurant. When they saw the Carpenter house, they fell in love - even with touches of its former incarnation as a mortuary, such as an embalming sink that remains in the basement.
'It's gorgeous,” Sienna said of the rambling building. 'We love the location and the historic aspects of it.”
Their bedroom includes doors to a second story deck where they can enjoy the proximity to downtown - it made the perfect spot to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, Sienna said. An extensive finished attic offers a spare bedroom, formal dining area, workout space and office.
When it was a funeral home, the upper floors stored caskets, and when it was Daniel Arthur's restaurant, a bar and chandelier in what is now the master bedroom entertained diners.
Though she loves the updates, Sienna said she sometimes wishes she could look back in time to see more of the house's history.
'One thing I do wish is that we could see how it originally looked, before the reconstruction and all the modifications,” she said.
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