The Riverside Roundhouse, a popular open-air market and community center in Czech Village, opened in 1963, bringing crowds of people to the village on market days.
Eventually, the farmers market moved out, and then came the 2008 flood. The roundhouse — one of the more interesting architectural buildings in the city — was disassembled and stored. Its fans hope to reassemble it one of these days, when the money is raised, perhaps placing in the Czech Village greenway created by the flood control system.
Designed in 1952
The idea for the Riverside community center began in 1952, when the city hired well-respected local architect Leo C. Peiffer to design two buildings — a senior citizen center for Greene Square and a community center in Riverside Park.
For the community center, Peiffer proposed a circular building that also could be used as a city market.
But nothing happened. In 1957, the city decided to turn Fire Station No. 5 at 1115 C St. SW into the Riverside Recreation Center.
In 1963, though, Peiffer’s plan was resurrected. The Cedar Rapids City Council approved $70,000 for its construction, though the final cost was $95,000, or about $800,000 in today’s dollars.
The new Riverside Community Center was dedicated on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1963, with Mayor Robert M.L. Johnson and city commissioners in attendance.
Parks Commissioner Don Gardner accepted a print of Grant Wood’s painting, “Stone City,” from Charles Kriz, vice president of the Sixteenth Avenue Commercial Club, to hang in the center.
The Gazette described the center as “an 84-foot-diameter circular building with vertical rolling steel doors around the perimeter to provide an open feeling for summer use and tight closure for winter activities.”
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The center had 40 stalls available for rent on farmers market days, scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from May 1 to Nov. 1 each year.
On non-market days, the building was used for public programs — music, art, square dancing, wrestling and volleyball, teen dances, archery classes, a chess club and a senior citizen hobby show, to name a few.
The first event held in the building was the Cedar Rapids Art Association’s annual art fair.
The first time it was publicly called “Riverside Roundhouse” was in a Jan. 30, 1964, news story about the first meeting of southwest side neighborhood residents. The nickname stuck.
The following summer, 1964, the city raised the rents for the Roundhouse farmers market stalls from $50 to $100 a year. The farmers market had been in a building on First Street NW for 40 years, so the 100 percent rent increase was startling.
Parks Commissioner Gardner tried to soften the blow by saying the new rate was only $1.33 per day for the 75-day season. The fee, he said, paid for liability insurance, heat, lights and salaries for the market master and a traffic cop.
Only two renters from 1963 declined to rent a booth in 1964, and those booths were quickly snatched up by newcomers.
The market had more than 40 successful years at the Roundhouse before traffic declined, as did the number of stalls being rented.
In 2007, the market was moved to a parking lot on Eighth Avenue SE between First and Second streets. Market-goers felt the heat from the parking lot and missed the cover provided by the Roundhouse. Vendors adjusted quickly, providing awnings for their customers. And while sales had increased, vendors noticed that some customers — confronted by the market’s long, straight stretch through the parking lot — turned back before they reached the end.
The Roundhouse was still used as an event space, renting for $200 for four hours.
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, which had shared parking space with the Roundhouse since the museum opened in 1993, began making plans to expand in spring 2008. Three of the four designs eliminated the Roundhouse.
Then came the flood. The museum was swamped, repaired and moved up a man-made hill, a little farther from the Cedar River.
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The Roundhouse was taken apart and stored in a field near the Tait Cummins Sports Complex on C Street SW.
In 2016, a nonprofit called Friends of Czech Village started raising money to restore the Roundhouse. It’s included in the Czech Village greenway plan.
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