CEDAR RAPIDS — The cherry on top of the Cherry Building is actually firmly planted on the ground.
“The Giant Cherry,” installed at the end of July, not only celebrates the converted warehouse’s name but its 100-year legacy as well. And building owners David and Lijun Chadima hope it becomes a landmark for folks wanting to meet up in the NewBo District.
“This will be an item that people will go, ‘Hey we’re gonna go down to NewBo; where should we meet? Well, let’s meet at the big cherry,’” said artist Todd Sabin, 59, of Cedar Rapids. “Or it’ll become a landmark in town. And there is no reason it shouldn’t be here another hundred years. It’s made out of fiberglass, so it should be timeless.”
It’s been dubbed “The Giant Cherry” for good reason.
The immense structure measures 8 feet in diameter. Add on another 5 feet for the stem and a 4-foot mounting, so “we calculate the top is probably 20 feet off the ground,” Sabin said.
It stands sentinel beside the building’s 11th Avenue entrance, across the street from NewBo City Market. Once considered the Cherry Building’s back door, David Chadima said the south side is being used “more and more” as the primary entrance, thanks to the district’s expansion in that direction.
“We have good visibility from the street,” Chadima added, as the third group of visitors that morning stopped by to snap a selfie.
“People love it,” he said. “Everybody that comes by loves it. They think it’s just really fascinating.”
It also has lighting mounting on top and bottom, so it will continue to be a beacon after dark.
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The Chadimas came up with the idea as a way to mark the building’s centennial, and a plaque mounted on the sculpture’s base pays homage to David’s late father, Bob Chadima. He purchased the former J.G. Cherry dairy manufacturing plant in 1976 for his welding supply business, hoping to lease out the space he wasn’t using. A visionary who championed the creation of the NewBo District as a place where art would thrive, his building morphed into a place with the motto, “Where creativity works.”
He died in 2016, but his dream lives on. The loft-style workspace houses 40 tenants including the Theatre Cedar Rapids scene shop, the Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio, photography and artist studios, a new-age center, entrepreneurs and arts-related small businesses.
Keeping to that homegrown spirit, David Chadima turned to his Cedar Rapids Washington High School classmate to create the sculpture.
“Our big thing is we really like to support local artists and businesses and things like that,” he said. “So we’re thrilled to get a very talented local artist like Todd that could take on the project.”
Sabin also used local contractors to help with everything from the fiberglass spraying, by Jeff Kurth in Ackley, to the glossy red automobile-grade paint applied by Klingler Painting & Decorating Inc. in Marion.
Sabin did much of the construction work at his home, and built three carriages to handle the cherry’s hard-to-handle round shape. The inner workings include a main steel center post attached to plates welded at the top and bottom. Other inner rods and wire mesh radiate outward to create the sphere, which was sprayed with a high-density foam. The structure was then sanded and covered with fiberglass, then sanded again before being painted. Even though it’s essentially hollow inside, Sabin estimated it still weighs around 500 or 600 pounds and required a crane to hoist it into place.
Sabin estimates he spent more than 100 hours just sanding the fiberglass.
“He’s a real perfectionist,” David Chadima added.
The work was privately funded, with no city money involved, and took about a year to complete.
Sabin is the kind of artist who likes a challenge.
“I like to come out of the comfort zone and do projects like this,” he said.
He’s had a hand in restoring several area landmarks, including Brucemore’s Lord & Burnham Greenhouse; the giant globe that once sat at The Eastern Iowa Airport and now welcomes visitors to Linn Hall at Kirkwood Community College; and the Althea Sherman Chimney Swift Tower near Tipton. He also made copper light fixtures at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s Winter Garden, as well as frames for works in the museum’s Grant Wood, Marvin Cone and Mauricio Lasansky permanent collections. And he built the big propellers, bar and a 28-foot steampunk instillation at Zeppelins restaurant in Cedar Rapids.
“I’ve been making things in this town for 45 years,” he said. “I still do construction and high-end finish carpentry (but) I’ve always got something like this in the background. ...
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“I’m honored to be part of projects like (“The Giant Cherry”). I kind of seek those out, and I’ve been fortunate enough that people know that I do these oddball projects and they seek me out, as well.
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If you go
• What: Cherry Building centennial celebration
• Where: Cherry Building, 329 10th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 14
• Features: Presentations by Mark Stoffer Hunter, who is writing a book on the building’s history; tenant open houses; “The Giant Cherry” sculpture dedication