Community

The houses that Bever built: Grant pays for historic survey of Cedar Rapids neighborhood

Woodland Drive SE is seen Dec. 24 in the Bever Woods neighborhood on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids. A city survey funded with a grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs State Historic Preservation will look for significant architectural details and other historic elements that define the neighborhood. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Woodland Drive SE is seen Dec. 24 in the Bever Woods neighborhood on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids. A city survey funded with a grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs State Historic Preservation will look for significant architectural details and other historic elements that define the neighborhood. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Residents of a southeast Cedar Rapids neighborhood soon could know more about their property’s histories thanks to an intensive historic survey planned by the city.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs State Historic Preservation office has awarded the city’s Community Development Department $18,000 to study the Bever Woods neighborhood.

The neighborhood is defined by 21st Street SE to the west, Bever Park at Memorial Drive SE to the east, Grande Avenue SE to the north and Bever Avenue SE to the south. The cluster of homes was platted in 1916 and built up in the 1920s by real estate developer James L. Bever Jr. His former home still stands there on Grande Avenue SE.

The neighborhood is filled with Tudor and colonial revival-style architecture and is marked by winding tree-lined roads between Grande and Bever avenues. It falls just a few blocks from the city’s two existing local historic districts.

The survey falls under the city’s historic preservation plan, adopted in September 2015, and stems from a 2014 citywide historic survey that recommended several neighborhoods for deeper study.

“Historic resources are what make our community unique from others,” said Bill Micheel, Cedar Rapids assistant director of community development. “What is unique about a community is what makes us who we are. Preserving and highlighting those things is important.”

The city will hire a consultant to look for “contributing or significant historic resources” in the neighborhood. Those could be unique architectural details, places where historical events happened or homes where people with significant ties to local history lived.

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“Knowing the character-defining features of your home can be a good resource,” said Lauren Freeman, community development program coordinator. “It can also be good protection against future demolition.”

In the future, the survey could be used as background information to establish a historic district. Cedar Rapids currently has nine nationally registered historic districts and two local historic districts.

To become a local historic district, 60 percent of residents in the district must agree to the designation, and a neighborhood then has added protections against demolitions, as well as additional building and renovation restrictions. It also makes residents eligible to apply for financial assistance for historically accurate preservation and maintenance of their property.

Even if a historic district isn’t created, property owners could apply for historic landmark status for individual homes based on their historic significance.

“It helps continue to tell the story of Cedar Rapids,” Freeman said.

Bever Woods is just one neighborhood on the list identified in the 2014 citywide survey; Micheel hopes the city will continue such work in the future.

“The more you know about something, the more you care about it,” he said. “As you lose those historic resources, you lose that connection to the past and what makes the city unique.”

The survey will be conducted through archival research and exterior examination and photos of houses in the neighborhood, taken from the public right of way. It won’t involve entering any private properties or requiring assistance from homeowners.

The city will seek bids in early 2019 for a consultant to complete the survey, with hopes to begin work in May or June. Micheel said he expects the survey to take six to eight months, after which a report will be available to residents.

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The city must match the grant with at least a $12,000 contribution, which can include in-kind contributions such as staff time.

Along with Cedar Rapids, the state Department of Cultural Affairs awarded grants to historic preservation commissions in Adams County, Dubuque, Greenfield, Jackson County, Manning, Mason City and Newton.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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