Time Machine

Time Machine: Fawcett Building in Cedar Rapids twice housed clubs for teenagers

The Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra bought the Fawcett Building, 119 Third Ave SE, on Aug. 8, 2001. The building, built
The Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra bought the Fawcett Building, 119 Third Ave SE, on Aug. 8, 2001. The building, built in 1905 by Charles E. Fawcett, was renovated and became the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra’s administrative offices and school for young musicians. (Gazette archives)
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Charles E. Fawcett — who would become a successful Cedar Rapids businessmen — moved to the city from Benton County as a teenager in 1880 with just $3 to his name.

He landed a job at Whiting Brothers Foundry and began learning to be a machinist. Nine months later, he went from earning $1 a day to $2.50, the highest wage in the shops.

Fawcett went into business for himself in 1886, opening a machine shop in a building at 115 Third Ave. SE with 500 square feet of floor space.

In 1887. he built his first building at Second Street and Third Avenue SE. He sold lighting fixtures — most of them gas and electric combinations — from the shop, which also had a production area.

Fawcett married Louise “Lucy” Brink in a quiet ceremony the evening of Oct. 24, 1895, in the home of their pastor. Their home was on First Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets SE.

As his business grew, he built a new sales room and office at 215-217 Second St. SE in 1900 and used his first building for a machine shop and storage.

Fawcett Building

By 1905, he’d outgrown that building, too, and undertook construction of a three-story building, which still bears his name, at 119 Third Ave. SE.

That building’s 25,000 square feet held “a complete stock of mill supplies, factory and machinists’ supplies and auto supplies, one of the largest in this section of the country,” a Gazette story said.

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Fawcett’s company supplied and installed electrical equipment in factories such as Iowa Manufacturing, LaPlant Choate and Iowa Steel and Iron Works.

He also sold electric cars, starting in 1902, focusing on National Vehicle Co.’s products out of Indianapolis that he deemed the “best on the market.”

Fawcett was 64 when he died in July 1925. The Gazette reported his death was due to smallpox.

New owner

F.G. Brink managed Fawcett’s company until October 1927 when the building and its contents were sold to Orrie Becker for about $100,000. Becker immediately arranged a closing-out sale of the store merchandise and fixtures to make way for new tenants.

The first tenant was Kline’s, a Rockford, Ill., department store that went bankrupt several years later. In 1934, Becker moved his Peoples Grocery & Market into the space.

Teen club

In 1944, the Young Men’s Bureau of the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a teen youth club above the grocery store on the building’s second and third floors.

An annual membership was $1.50 — about $22 in today’s dollars.

The teens set the center’s policies, which stated membership was open to all public and parochial students from ninth through 12th grades. If a student joined in high school, he or she was allowed to remain a member until their 20th birthday.

The club’s grand opening was Saturday, Feb. 26, and the club operated lasted for four years. Among the items sold at a December 1948 auction were the club’s 35 booths, two 10-pin alleys, a Coca-Cola mixer, a soda fountain and 150 chairs.

The Peoples grocery store moved out in 1949. The Arthur Murray dance studio used the upper floors in the 1950s.

Second teen club

The teen club concept was revived in 1968.

With guidance from their parents, a group of teens scrubbed, painted and hammered the former dance studio into a club they dubbed “The Attic.” The first month’s rent was donated by the building’s owner, Harold Becker.

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The club’s adult board of directors (necessary to form a nonprofit corporation) proceeded to raise enough money to operate the club its first year.

Membership was open to high schoolers from their mid-sophomore year through age 20. The club reached 2,000 members almost immediately, but membership dropped nearly as quickly.

Remodeling and the additions of strobe lights were meant to entice teens to the club in 1969, but attendance remained between 250 and 300 on Saturdays, the only night it was open. Teens cited too much adult supervision as the reason for their waning interest.

By February 1970, the space was listed for rent.

More uses

Over the years, the Fawcett building housed an appliance store, a drapery and carpet store, the Footnote book and card store and a Waldenbooks on the first floor.

Upper-floor tenants included the FBA (Fraternal Benevolent Assn.) Club, Joyce’s Lounge, Spanky’s Last Chance Saloon, Baja Surf Club and the Upper Deck.

The building stood vacant for nine years, and Toys for Tots used the space for its annual toy drive beginning in 1995.

In 1999, The Father’s House Vineyard Christian Fellowship moved in.

In 2001, Harold Becker, chairman of Guaranty Bank & Trust, and his son, Robert, the bank’s president and CEO, sold the building to the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra.

Terms of the sale were not released. The symphony renovated the building for the Symphony School and the orchestra’s administrative offices. The Symphony School’s 900 students had been using the building’s main floor for the past year with the Beckers’ blessing.

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Today, the building still houses the Orchestra Iowa School and connects to the Opus Concert Cafe that fronts the Paramount Theatre.

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