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Time Machine: Cedar Rapids cafe became gathering spot for artists in 1920s

James Searles built the building at 313 Third Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids to house the monument company he owned with John Baxter. (Gazette archives)
James Searles built the building at 313 Third Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids to house the monument company he owned with John Baxter. (Gazette archives)
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The 125-year-old building at 313 Third Ave. SE was the favored gathering spot for Cedar Rapids artists and performers in the 1920s.

But it started as a building James Searls and John Baxter built in 1893 to house their Marble and Granite Works. The two doubled the size of the single storefront before moving to 516 Third Ave. SE in 1909.

A furniture and rug dealer then moved in, followed by E.W. Speedling’s pharmacy, which was caught in a Prohibition raid for selling an intoxicating Jamaican ginger beverage.

Hawkeye Lunch opened there Nov. 10, 1920, with music and flowers but was under new management two months later. The owners soon saw the benefit of catering to the theater crowd when 26 couples sought shelter from a storm in the cafe.

THE ACTRESS & HER BEAU

At about the same time, the two people who would breathe a little casual elegance into the cafe met on a cross-country train trip.

A girl on the train recognized Broadway and film star Julian Baubien, born Julian Dolezal in Oxford Junction, and introduced her to fellow passenger A.C. Ehman, president of Ehman Tire and Rubber Co. of Chicago.

A romance began, and Baubien and Ehman were married in Cedar Rapids. After their honeymoon, the couple returned to Iowa, and Ehman took over operating the cafe in 1923, leasing it from the owners of the Hawkeye Restaurant.

He renamed it the Travel Inn and immediately began remodeling it, adding an outdoor cafe with a decorative canopy.

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For the next three or so eventful years, the inn continued its popularity with the performers and crew from the nearby Majestic theater as well as young thespians, including artist Grant Wood, from local theater groups.

On one wall of the Travel Inn was a photo of Gaby Deslys, a French-born international actress who was Julian’s dear friend.

“During a period of a little over two years in which Julian has resided in Cedar Rapids, because of those associations of other days, the Travel Inn has come to be the Mecca for all the children of the world of make-believe,” wrote Jim Farquhar, a managing editor for the Cedar Rapids Republican in 1925. It was, he wrote, “a veritable oasis to homesick artists.”

New Year’s Eve 1925 at the Travel Inn was filled with music and dancing. At midnight, a seven-course dinner was served. Patrons who reserved tables were performers at the Majestic, 16 musicians from local theaters and 30 members of the Garlic Club.

THE GARLIC CLUB

The Travel Inn was the Garlic Club’s first “club house,” where the tables were covered with red checkered cloths with candles stuck in tallowed bottles. Painters, writers, musicians, artists were all encouraged to “be yourself.”

The club was informal and never organized as such. It just met when “a few friends of artistic bent naturally gravitated toward each other and at first casually meeting under the hospitable atmosphere of Maitre Ehman, soon came naturally to meet and greet each other in friendly camaraderie,” a reporter wrote in 1926.

“Such visiting poets and artists as Lew Sarett, Donfarran, Ed Wynn, Axel Christensen and Fiske O’Hara were made to feel a little bit more at home in Cedar Rapids because they came to know the Garlics.”

The gatherings had no officers, but Wood was tacitly recognized as “dean” of the club, and his place at the head of the table was just assumed.

Singer Ralph Leo attended a few meetings and experienced Wood’s special salad, with garlic, before he left to become head of the Conservatory of Music at the University of Texas.

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After his departure, he wrote a letter to “The Garlic Club, Travel Inn, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.” That’s when the name stuck.

In September 1926, the Ehmans turned the inn over to a new manager, Harry S. Newman of the Newman Pastry Shops in Chicago, and moved to Chicago.

The Travel Inn closed in the fall of 1927 after Newman charged Ehman with fraud. Ehman said Newman’s lawsuit was an effort to get Ehman to pay debts incurred when the restaurant closed.

SEARS & BEYOND

On June 7, 1928, Hans Goodrich, who had come to Chicago from Germany eight years before, opened the Pickwick Inn in the former Travel Inn, painting the interior light green to create an old English tavern theme. The new cafe was open 24 yours with a special midnight supper served to after-theater parties.

The Pickwick lasted until the end of August, when the building’s owners, A.F. Groeltz, and his son and daughter-in-law, Fred A. and Addie A. Groeltz, canceled the lease and placed an ad to sell all of the building’s fixtures.

On April 27, 1929, the former inn and cafe was replaced by a new Sears store, which covered 313-317 Third Ave. SE. When Sears moved to Lindale Plaza (later Lindale Mall) in 1960, a May Drug moved in.

In 1972, Foreman & Clark, a men’s clothing store, were the new tenants. The remodeling included a new wood and concrete canopy over the front of the store and restoration of the front to its original stone.

Case Investments bought the 84-year-old building in June 1977 for $150,000.

Foreman & Clark closed at the end of 1997, and Heritage Associates Corp./Heritage Property Management moved in during January 1998.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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