Government

Cedar Rapids history baked into Bever Woods neighborhood

Architectural historians documenting eclectic mix of styles

Maria Schmid (left), an architectural historian with Wapsi Valley Archaeology, and volunteer Mollie Schlue take notes last Thursday on a house during a survey of the Bever Woods neighborhood of southeast Cedar Rapids. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs State Historic Preservation office awarded the city’s Community Development Department a grant to undertake the survey. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Maria Schmid (left), an architectural historian with Wapsi Valley Archaeology, and volunteer Mollie Schlue take notes last Thursday on a house during a survey of the Bever Woods neighborhood of southeast Cedar Rapids. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs State Historic Preservation office awarded the city’s Community Development Department a grant to undertake the survey. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Walking down Park Terrace SE lined with one eye-catching structure after the next is strolling through the story of Cedar Rapids’ early architectural history.

Green tiled shingles top an old Italianate two-story home with tall arched windows. A Tudor style house with a pitched gable roof stands nearby, followed by several Craftsman houses with low sloped roofs, front porches and stucco, and then stately looking colonial homes.

“They all fit in,” said Maria Schmid, an architectural historian for Wapsi Valley Archaeology of Anamosa. “They all contribute to the history of the neighborhood.”

The city of Cedar Rapids hired Wapsi Valley for $16,857 in July to conduct a historic survey of Bever Woods supported by a grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs State Historic Preservation office.

The survey is designed to evaluate the historic significance of the area and to help determine whether individual properties or the neighborhood as a whole would qualify for the National Register of Historic Places, which could unlock grants and tax credits for repairs and other projects in the neighborhood.

“A lot of those houses in that area have historical significance,” said Tim Oberbroeckling, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission and a member of Friends Of Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation. “One is because of their age, and secondly because of the architecture.”

Neither the Historic Preservation Commission nor Friends Of Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation is involved directly in the survey, but Oberbroeckling is interested in protecting Cedar Rapids historic areas and properties.

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Bever Woods is outlined 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 on Grande Avenue SE. The Bever family is considered among the founding pioneers that shaped the city, which adds another layer of significance, Oberbroeckling and Schmid said.

In addition to documenting each property — about 150 single-family homes — Schmid’s report will tell the history of the area and what she can about each individual home. The Bever family once owned much of the land as part of its farmstead, she said.

“It is really interesting getting sucked into history,” Schmid said. “And telling the story of how this came about.”

Schmid and about 10 volunteers have been walking the streets with clipboards for taking notes and cameras to document the features of each property. The historic integrity of each structure is evaluated based on location, design, materials, workmanship, setting, feeling and association to something historic, according to a field survey form.

“I love old neighborhoods,” said Mollie Schlue, who has lived in the neighborhood for five years and volunteered to help. “I thought the process sounded interesting, walking around looking at and hearing about old houses.”

Schlue said she would like to see the area gain national recognition, but noted some neighbors are leery of going beyond the national registry. The local historic landmark designation carries more rules for what can be done with the property listed.

Properties could be placed on both the national and local landmark roster, and Oberbroeckling, who advocates for the local designation, noted the city offers readily available grants of up to $7,000 to offset costs associated with repairs for historic homes and said preservation rules apply only to a home’s exterior and do not include paint colors.

The Wapsi Valley report is due next June.

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Sylvia Brueckert, a city planner, said the city would review the findings, and engage neighbors and City Council members about how they wish to move forward. Even if the report finds the area is eligible for the national registry, the city ultimately may not apply, she said.

“There is no specific outcome we are looking for,” Brueckert said. “A lot of it depends on what residents in the district want.”

A 2015 historic preservation plan recommended the Bever Woods area as one of the top areas in the city to survey for historic significance. Other areas immediately surrounding Bever Woods could be evaluated in the future, based on availability of grant funding, Brueckert said.

Cedar Rapids has seven national historic districts including the Third Avenue SW Commercial National Historic District, Auto Row National Historic District, B Avenue NE National Historic District, Bohemian Commercial National Historic District, Downtown National Historic District, May’s Island National Historic District, and Oak Hill Cemetery National Historic District.

Cedar Rapids has two local historic districts including Second and Third Avenue Local Historic District and Redmond Park — Grande Avenue Local Historic District.

The city also has a handful of landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places, and six local historic landmarks.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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