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Bever Woods neighborhood under consideration for historic landmark status

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A home on Grande Avenue SE in the Bever Woods neighborhood photographed on Sept. 11, 2019. — Jav Ducker/Little Village

The first neighborhood survey scheduled as part of Cedar Rapids’ Historic Preservation Plan will start this month, with an analysis of the historic qualities of the Bever Woods neighborhood.

The city received an $18,000 Certified Local Government grant from the state for the survey, which will be completed in two parts by Wapsi Valley Archaeology. The first part will look into the historical context of the area by searching archives and old photographs, the company’s architectural historian Maria Schmid said last week at a public meeting about the survey. The second part will focus on the current architecture by walking through the neighborhood and taking photos of the area.

Schmid said the main criteria she’ll look for are the area’s association with historic events, its association with significant people and if the area has provided (or is likely to provide) important information about the community.

The portion of the neighborhood being surveyed has Bever Park on the east, Bever Avenue SE on the south, 21st Street SE on the west and Grande Avenue SE on the north.

Bever Woods survey area from Google Maps

“We will gain all the information we can about the area,” Schmid said. “We’ll start with the history of Linn County, then the history of Cedar Rapids and how it developed into the area we have today of Bever Woods. We’re going to find information about the Bever family and how they developed the land.”

Sampson Cicero Bever, the patriarch of the Bever family, moved to Cedar Rapids with his wife and children in 1852. He led the effort to create the first railroad in Cedar Rapids and opened the city’s first bank. He also donated the land that is now Bever Park.

James L. Bever Jr., a grandson of Sampson Bever, developed the homes in the Bever Woods neighborhood in the 1920s. In 1923, he also built an office building at 417 First Ave SE that became a notable part of downtown Cedar Rapids. The Bever Building was torn down last year, despite strong opposition from historic preservation advocates.

The survey will help determine what designation should be pursued for the neighborhood: local historic district, local historic landmark, national historic district or national historic landmark.

“It will be up to the individual property owners to decide if they want to pursue individual or area designation on the national level or as a local historic district or local historic landmark,” Cedar Rapids City Planner Adam Lindenlaub told Little Village in an email. “The city will initiate the process for local designation only if the property owners desire to do so.”

For a local historic district designation, there is an approval process that includes getting the support of at least 60 percent of the district’s residents, Lindenlaub said. It must then be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission, City Planning Commission and the City Council.

Cedar Rapids has two local historic districts and six local historic landmarks, in addition to a number of national historic landmarks and national historic districts. The two local historic districts are 2nd and 3rd Avenue and Redmond Park-Grande Avenue.

One of the oft-cited benefits of living in a local historic district is knowing the character of the neighborhood won’t change.

“When people come to Cedar Rapids and they go through your neighborhood, they are in awe,” Cedar Rapids City Councilmember Dale Todd said to residents at the Sept. 5 public meeting about the survey. “I want that to be the same 20 years from now or 30, 40 years from now.”

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Residents living in a local historic district or local historic landmark have to follow design guidelines if they are planning any repairs or remodeling. Any plans to change the exterior of the home are reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission and Community Development staff. There is not the same level of review with a national historic district designation.

There is a city-funded grant program for local historic districts and landmarks to help with the cost of any exterior remodeling, Lindenlaub said. Depending on the applicant’s household income, the two grants can cover up to $5,000 or up to $7,500 of the project’s costs.

Homes on Bever Avenue SE photographed on Sept. 11, 2019. — Jav Ducker/Little Village

Todd, who was commissioner of recreation and public buildings when the Redmond Park-Grande Avenue local historic district was adopted in the late 1990s, said one of the goals of a historic district is to “stabilize the neighborhood and use it as a tool to help enhance the neighborhood.”

“You already have an investment in that house,” Todd said. “This is a tool to protect your investment, to stop somebody from moving in next door to you and doing something that is detrimental to your property.”

Residents are encouraged to share any historic photographs or information they might have, by emailing hpreview@cedar-rapids.org. There will also be a volunteer training Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. in the Cedar Rapids City Hall training room for community members who want to get involved with the survey process.

The results of the survey are scheduled to be made public in June 2020.


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