116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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'Funeral demonstration' protests loss of historic Cedar Rapids church
Mar. 21, 2012 11:00 pm
Demonstrators said a “funeral” seemed a fitting way to protest the pending demolition of a historic church in Cedar Rapids.
Wearing black and holding signs that lamented the loss of First Christian Church, a handful of protesters stood in front of the site this morning at 840 Third Ave. SE.
Cemetery wreaths dotted the ground.
“This is not progress!” one sign read. Another placard urged passers-by to contact St. Luke's Hospital CEO Ted Townsend and Mike Sundall, CEO of Physician's Clinic of Iowa.
St. Luke's purchased the church as part of the parking plan for PCI's new medical pavilion, under construction nearby at Second Avenue and 10
Beth Chacey DeBoom, who organized the demonstration, said the group was getting a positive reaction from motorists.
“Lots of people honk and they give an emphatic thumbs-up,” she said.
Some people remain confused, however, DeBoom said, noting she heard from one man who thought the building was damaged in the flood. It was not.
DeBoom said the outcry is leading to the formation of a “friends” group to help preserve historic sites in Cedar Rapids.
She hoped that St. Luke's could hold off on demolition while members try to raise money to buy the church.
“This will be our next Union Station,” DeBoom said, citing the historic depot demolished in 1961 in downtown Cedar Rapids. “When do we ever learn from the past?”
Hospital officials said no definitive date was set for demolition, but the windows and exterior columns will be saved and kept in Cedar Rapids.
Renowned architect Louis Sullivan was a consultant on the church, dedicated in 1913, with stained-glass windows created by designer Louis Millet.
"We regret that (chairwoman Maura) Pilcher and/or the city's Historical Preservation Commission has taken such a negative approach to the church dilemma," St. Luke's spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo said in an email. "We respected the Historical Commission's 60-day hold on demolition to allow a final opportunity for folks to come forward with viable alternatives. There have been none."
"We understand some individuals desire to preserve the building, but respectfully disagree with the Commission's public protests to hold on to what no one has come forward with a viable plan to reuse, and wish instead that they had taken a more proactive and positive approach," the email stated.
Protesters were not commission members, but people interested in preserving the city's history.
Carrie Kriz, a homeowner who lives in the new Cedar Rapids medical district, said proponents at meetings early in the process promised the district would be an attraction, with restaurants, coffee houses and lodging filling existing buildings.
“Originally they were saying the churches would not be affected,” she said. “It just seems logical that we would repurpose things.”
Kriz said the church could serve a use in the medical district as a site for massage therapy, yoga, meditation and other forms of complementary medicine, including the spiritual side touted in new cancer centers.
“It could be a draw,” she said.