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History Happenings | Changes coming to Mount Vernon Road and 19th Street SE

This 2018 photo shows 1901 to 1917 Mount Vernon Road SE in Cedar Rapids. The original corner section at right was built in 1915 for the Sadilek Grocery store. The section at left was added in 1921. The structure is to be demolished soon to widen Mount Vernon Road SE and add a turn lane to 19th Street SE. (Mark Stoffer Hunter)
This 2018 photo shows 1901 to 1917 Mount Vernon Road SE in Cedar Rapids. The original corner section at right was built in 1915 for the Sadilek Grocery store. The section at left was added in 1921. The structure is to be demolished soon to widen Mount Vernon Road SE and add a turn lane to 19th Street SE. (Mark Stoffer Hunter)
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Upcoming street improvements to Mount Vernon Road in southeast Cedar Rapids will soon include the widening at 19th Street SE.

That work will involve adding a left-turn lane to 19th Street SE for eastbound traffic on Mount Vernon Road, which necessitates the removal of a century-old commercial storefront building at 1901-1915-1917 Mount Vernon Road. The property was recently boarded up in preparation for its destruction.

Just before construction of the first part of this building in late 1915, this intersection had become an important connection point for early automobile traffic.

Mount Vernon Road dates to the earliest history of Linn County, having been designed as a very early county road connecting the cities of Mount Vernon and Cedar Rapids in the late 1840s. In the 1890s, a connector road running north and south was established between Mount Vernon Road and 12th Avenue SE, just east of house lots adjacent to the Oak Hill Cemetery. This was initially named Upton Avenue.

Shortly after 1900, 19th Street SE was established as a narrow road connecting First Avenue East with Mount Vernon Road.

Because of different development patterns between the Higleys’ Wellington Heights to the west and the newer Ridgewood and Vernon Heights areas to the east, the entrance to 19th Street SE at Mount Vernon Road SE did not match up to where Upton Avenue met Mount Vernon Road to the south.

Upton Avenue was renamed as an extension of 19th Street SE in the early 1920s and, for nearly a century now, drivers encounter a slightly disconnected intersection, similar to where 15th Street SE meets Mount Vernon Road to the west.

high traffic

Still, the intersection of 19th Street and Mount Vernon Road SE was considered an ideal, high-traffic location to build neighborhood commercial properties in the early 1900s.

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It was Frank Sadilek who built the first corner section of the one-story building at 1901-1915-1917 Mount Vernon Road SE.

He operated a family grocery store there and lived a couple doors away at 1921 Mount Vernon Road SE.

Business at the corner was so good that by 1922, he’d added a one-story addition directly to the east, also of wood-frame construction.

The grocery store moved into the newer section and was handed over to the Milo Seda family.

The original corner storefront became the first location for the Vernon Heights Pharmacy, initially operated by George Faaborg.

highway rerouting

A bigger initiative for enlarging the building in the early 1920s involved the rerouting of the Lincoln Highway (precursor to Highway 30) down Mount Vernon Road from eastern Linn County.

This significantly increased traffic at the intersection and also resulted in the construction of a Standard Oil filling station across the street at 1904 Mount Vernon Road SE.

In addition, an older grocery store building that had originally stood next to Oak Hill Cemetery moved several feet to the “southwest” corner of 19th Street and Mount Vernon Road SE, providing healthy competition for the grocery and pharmacy on the “southeast” corner. (This structure at 1841 Mount Vernon Road SE had a white stucco front and was a barbershop for many years before being demolished in 2010.)

Also helpful for business in this area was the opening of the large new Buchanan Elementary school east of the intersection. The two-story, brick school, at 2000 Mount Vernon Road SE, was built in 1919-20 and replaced the older, wood-frame Buchanan that had stood there since 1902.

The new Vernon Heights Pharmacy and Seda Grocery at 1915 and 1917 Mount Vernon Road SE became very popular for the Buchanan kids for after-school stops to get candy, sodas and other treats.

retail corner

In 1934, a new commercial building featuring three storefronts opened next to the Standard Oil gas station at 1906-1908-1910 Mount Vernon Road SE.

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The intersection with 19th Street SE had six retail storefronts and a gas station by the end of 1935 and became a flourishing neighborhood center of activity.

In the mid-1950s, the longtime Vernon Heights Pharmacy moved across the street to the newer building at 1906 Mount Vernon Road SE and later became known as the popular Jim’s Vernon Heights Pharmacy.

Back at the older building on the south side of Mount Vernon Road SE, the longtime original pharmacy building was converted to a real estate office for the Techau family.

The old grocery store next door at 1917 Mount Vernon Road SE kept going, operated by the Drapela family for many years.

The arrival of new grocery supermarkets along Mount Vernon Road in the 1950s and ’60s spelled the end of the grocery store in the 1917 storefront, which closed in the early 1970s.

That space was then converted into Kenny’s Appliance service store. The corner storefront, whose address had been changed from 1915 to 1901, became home to Fay’s Beauty Salon in the early 1970s.

The widening of Mount Vernon Road SE from two lanes to four lanes in the mid-1970s brought the street very close to the front of the old storefront building at 1901-1917 Mount Vernon Road.

end near

In more recent years, the building has had various uses, including a small church and the Ebony Beauty Supply store. Soon, this building will be no more.

The removal of this structure will be the end of the physical history of old storefronts on the south side of the Mount Vernon Road and 19th Street SE intersection.

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However, across the street on the north side of the intersection, the 1934 structure that was the later location of Vernon Heights Pharmacy, survives as a home for Nassif’s Oriental Rugs. Next door, the old Standard Oil gas station was long ago replaced by a more modern convenience store.

The old 1920 Buchanan school also still stands a block to the east, though it is vacant. It was closed as a school in 1973 and then used for just over 40 years as the city’s Ambroz Recreation Center.

• Mark Stoffer Hunter is a research historian for The History Center in Cedar Rapids. Comments: mark@historycenter.org

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