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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Preservation group marks milestone with NewBo building tours in Cedar Rapids

By Diana Nollen, The Gazette | Feb 16, 2018

CEDAR RAPIDS — Childhood drives with her mother instilled a love of historic buildings in Beth DeBoom’s heart. Dr. Seuss spurred her to put that passion into action as an adult, with this quote from “The Lorax”:

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

“I was watching a movie with my daughter,” DeBoom, 50, of Cedar Rapids, said. “The First Christian Church was about to come down, and that quote popped up, and I knew we had to do something. Luckily, I had a group — a huge group, a groundswell of supporters — other people who want to do the same thing, and they’ve carried forth that work to this day.”

Her rallying cry came too late to save the historic church from the wrecking ball in 2012. She was there every day, watching the structure at 840 Third Ave. SE come down in pieces.

“I would get a little comfort out of watching how much the building resisted being torn down, because it was so strong and the machines would have to tug and tug and tug and tear at it. But I was there,” she said. “I was there every day. It was a hospice situation for a building, and I had to be there to say goodbye.”

In the past five years, the nonprofit Save CR Heritage that grew out of her call to action has saved commercial and residential buildings in the heart of city.

To celebrate the milestone, the group is opening six buildings in the south end of the NewBo District for a behind-the-scenes CR Hearts Tour on Saturday afternoon. The first stop is a 1915 Czech immigrant house known as the Lunak House, at 213 13th Ave. SE, which is now an Airbnb. Tour participants can buy a $10 ticket there and pick up a map guiding them to the other sites in that vicinity.

The last stop is the newly renovated Ideal Social Hall at 213 16th Ave. SE, breathing new life into the 1914 Ideal Theatre. A social hour there from 5 to 6 p.m. features appetizers and a cash bar, as well as a presentation on the city’s Bohemian Commercial Historic District.

The centerpiece of the self-guided tour is the former White Elephant building, now beckoning visitors from its new home at 1305 Third St. SE. Slated for demolition at its former site, 1010 Third St. SE, it was moved a couple of blocks to a temporary spot on Second Street SE in May 2016, and in June 2017, moved another short distance to its new foundation.

It’s been fully renovated, with new electrical, heating and cooling systems. Soon the former thrift store that once housed a watchmaker and jeweler will come full circle, featuring a jewelry store on the first floor and an Airbnb on the second floor. A ramp on the south side and a renovated first-floor restroom offer wheelchair accessibility to the main space. An original narrow stairway, however, leads to the B&B accommodations.

The Lunak house, shown on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. The historic building, restored after the flood of 2008 and now available through AirBnB, will be on the upcoming CR Hearts Tour in New Bohemia, marking the fifth anniversary of historic preservation group Save CR Heritage.

The past five years “went by really fast” for DeBoom and her fellow Save CR Heritage board members.

“Some people are surprised that we’re still around,” she said, “that we actually did it and have achieved a few things — some pretty big things. And now we’re going to have a celebration.”

Then it’s back to work, advocating for historic renovation rather than wrecking balls.

“We can’t really say that Save CR alone saved these and other buildings, because it takes visionary private investors and city officials to make things happen,” DeBoom said. “But we keep buildings and their importance in the public eye. In the past, they were too often lost before they could be found.”

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