CEDAR RAPIDS — Historic preservation advocates on Thursday pushed back on a request to demolish one of the original Cedar Rapids “mansions,” which is in the path of the expansion of Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa.
What is now a two-story apartment house at 824 Third Ave. SE wasn’t in the PCI expansion blueprint released earlier this year. Plans changed when PCI couldn’t acquire land for a parking ramp in the 1000 block of Third Avenue.
“This sudden change means that the tenants who rent apartments in the old 1885 former Clark family mansion have to move out by the end of February and then the historic former mansion will be destroyed potentially in March of 2018,” said Mark Stoffer Hunter, historian for The History Center and chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission. “This short and sudden timeline creates limited options for preservation efforts.”
At its meeting Thursday, the commission put a 60-day hold on the demolition requested by UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital, which owns the land.
In a second, unrelated request on the same block, the commission put a 60-day hold on a demolition request by the MedQuarter District for property at 800 Third Ave. SE for a pocket park.
After 60 days, demolition can proceed. In Cedar Rapids, demolitions of primary structures 50 years and older must go before the commission for review.
PCI is working on a $30 million expansion, including a 98,000-square-foot, three-story medical office building at 275 10th St. SE and a 540-space parking ramp now at the 824 Third Ave. SE site. City tax incentives were approved to cover the cost of the parking ramp.
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City staff report the house is in below normal condition and has never been surveyed for historical significance but it is not believed to be associated with historical events or people.
Stoffer Hunter disagreed. It is one of six surviving mansions in the Mansion Hill district, which had 100 large homes and estates belonging to residents who helped shape the city in its early days.
Stoffer Hunter hopes the structure can be moved — which could be a challenge, given its size — but at minimum, he wants the building’s history documented. St. Luke’s, which purchased the property for $447,000 in 2010, has agreed to cover some of the moving costs.
Michael Sundall, chief executive of PCI, said the 1000 block site for the parking ramp was the preference but acquiring the private land proved too costly. PCI simply reverted to an early version of the plan, which included taking down the house, he said.
former gas station
The second property built as a Sinclair gas station around 1923 is a contributor to the Automobile Row Historic District, as described in the National Register of Historic Places, but in itself is not historically significant, Stoffer Hunter said.
At one time, the Lincoln Highway passed down Second Avenue SE, and automobile services and shops quickly popped up, prompting locals to dub it “auto row,” Stoffer Hunter said.
It is one of three old gas station structures remaining, but alterations have left this one with little resemblance to the original, he said.
Phil Wasta, executive director of the MedQuarter, which purchased the property for $115,000 in November, called the building “woefully under-maintained and dilapidated.”
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The plan is to turn the property into a pocket park with benches, trees and bushes, consistent with the plan for the medical district to include more green spaces and provide setbacks to allow visual relief, he said.
“When people go out for walk in the district, they need places to sit down,” he said.
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