History Center kicks off remodeling of century-old Douglas Mansion in Cedar Rapids

The ceremonial wall breaking to kick of the restoration of the historic Douglas Mansion in Cedar Rapids. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

A ceremonial wall breaking kicked off renovation and restoration work at the historic Cedar Rapids Douglas Mansion, which will be the new home of the History Center and, if all goes to plan, should open in the fall next year.

The building has deep ties to the Cedar Rapids community. Finished in 1896, the mansion was first home to George Bruce Douglas and his family. Douglas’ father started the Stuart and Douglas Mill, which would become the Quaker Oats factory, and Douglas and his brother began the Douglas Starch Works, which would become Penford and now Ingredion, Inc.

By 1906, the Douglas family was in search of a larger home and became a part of a legendary house swap with the Sinclair family, who owned the mansion that the Douglas family renamed the Brucemore.

“The Sinclairs moved to the house in town and the Douglas family moved to the country,” History Center historian Mark Stoffer Hunter said.

History Center Executive Director Jason Wright speaks at the historic Cedar Rapids Douglas Mansion, in front of arches attributed to Grant Wood. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

The Sinclairs lived in the Douglas Mansion until 1923, when it was sold to the Turner family, becoming the Turner Mortuary. The Turner family added on a large addition to the east side of the house, and also, significantly, provided a local artist with a studio above the former carriage house and employed him in remodeling efforts. That artist: Grant Wood.

“When Grant Wood worked in here, he had not yet made it on the national scene. He was really just known as a local artist,” Stoffer Hunter said. “It was when he was here and he was able to just focus on his art and not worry about living expenses, just cigarettes and paint, that he was able to flourish as an artist. We’re not touching anything that is known to be his work. Although we are looking for any possibility of whether there’s a signature or wadded up pieces of paper in the walls, which he was known to do.”

During his time with the Turners, Wood is credited with reworking the arched windows above the main staircase looking in to the music room, and had a hand in the stain glass of the east-facing bay window. The Turner family also bought many pieces of his artwork to hang in the front halls.

Grant Wood’s drawing of the ironwork front gates was frequently used by the Turner Mortuary, to the point where many people believed Wood had designed the gates themselves. However, the gates were there long before Wood picked up his pencil. In the future, the front entrance will not be used in order to avoid modifications to the building. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

“The Turners kept him financially prosperous because they continually bought pieces of his work,” Stoffer Hunter said. “Around 20-30 pieces of his artwork were hanging on the walls. It was kind of a selling point: There are other funeral parlors but only the Turner Mortuary comes with a Grant Wood gallery.”

The house changed hands again in the ’80s, when it was purchased by the Linge family and renamed the Grant Wood Chapel of Cedar Memorial. After the 2008 flood, it became a temporary home for displaced cultural organizations such as Theatre Cedar Rapids. In 2014, the Linn County Historical Society purchased the home to become the new History Center.

Tuesday’s ceremony marked a celebration of the center’s successful fundraising efforts. The center has raised $3.9 million for the renovation and restoration. The efforts were part of its Landmark and Legacy campaign, which was dedicated to raising money for the total cost of the renovations beforehand, and which received over 200 individual donations. The center also plans to continue raising money for an endowment to continue its work as a community resource in the future.

The Douglas Mansion is set to undergo restoration and house the History Center upon completion. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

“The History Center board members, they are activists. And you need activists on the board for a project like this,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett during a press conference leading up to the wall breaking ceremony.

The renovation project will take the house back to what it might have looked like in the ’20s and ’30s, when it was a private home — the center has even conducted an analysis of paint layers to gauge what the original colors might have been.

History Center Board President Adam Ebert said that the group has relied on advice from Rinderknecht Associates, Inc., which has been hired on as general contractor, to estimate the cost and planning for renovations. The center has also consulted Aspect Architecture Design, which has worked on previous remodeling and historic renovation projects

“One thing that is hard about working with an organization like us is that we are not expert builders, but we have high, material expectations. It creates a lot of work for the contractor,” he said.

An oval room in the historic Douglas Mansion. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

Ebert said one of his favorite rooms in the house is John Turner’s former office, also known as the “round room.” The room, which above the main entrance, is oval-shaped.

“Even the doors and windows are curved,” Ebert pointed out. “It’s an investment in detail, and reflects an era where owners made that a priority.”

The room also currently has a bit of visible damage to the ceiling left over from a leaky roof that has since been repaired.

“To me, seeing that [damage] was the ‘Oh, no, we have to do something’ moment,” he said.

Although the house did suffer a bit of water damage, Ebert said it is still in pretty good condition.

The library in the historic Douglas Mansion. Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann

“Inside, it’s mostly a matter of stripping things down, and updating the electrical and plumbing,” he said. “This is a good building. We don’t have to tear it down to the studs and replace it, and to be honest, we wouldn’t want to.”

Ebert said he hopes the central location and historical significance of the building helps the History Center and its resources become a part of the lives of members of the community. That, ultimately, is one of the main goals of the center.

“The group of people involved in this project are really just trying to do some greater good,” Ebert said.

[hcode_image_gallery image_gallery_type=”lightbox-gallery” lightbox_type=”masonry” column=”3″ image_gallery=”127791,127797,127796,127789,127795,127794,127793,127784,127787,127788″]

[gravityform id="17" title="false" description="false" ajax="true"]
<div class='gf_browser_unknown gform_wrapper your-village-form_wrapper' id='gform_wrapper_17' ><a id='gf_17' class='gform_anchor' ></a><form method='post' enctype='multipart/form-data' target='gform_ajax_frame_17' id='gform_17' class='your-village-form' action='/history-center-kicks-off-remodeling-of-century-old-douglas-mansion-in-cedar-rapids/#gf_17'> <div class='gform_body'><ul id='gform_fields_17' class='gform_fields top_label form_sublabel_below description_below'><li id='field_17_7' class='gfield gfield_html gfield_html_formatted gfield_no_follows_desc field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible' ><h3 style="font-weight:800; font-size:34px;">Let's get started</h3> <p style="font-size:18px;">Fill out this form and we'll contact you with information about marketing with Little Village!</p></li><li id='field_17_4' class='gfield field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible' ><label class='gfield_label gfield_label_before_complex' for='input_17_4_3' ></label><div class='ginput_complex ginput_container no_prefix has_first_name no_middle_name has_last_name no_suffix gf_name_has_2 ginput_container_name gfield_trigger_change' id='input_17_4'> <span id='input_17_4_3_container' class='name_first' > <input type='text' name='input_4.3' id='input_17_4_3' value='' aria-label='First name' tabindex='2' aria-invalid="false" placeholder='First name'/> <label for='input_17_4_3' >First</label> </span> <span id='input_17_4_6_container' class='name_last' > <input type='text' name='input_4.6' id='input_17_4_6' value='' aria-label='Last name' tabindex='4' aria-invalid="false" placeholder='Last name'/> <label for='input_17_4_6' >Last</label> </span> </div></li><li id='field_17_5' class='gfield gfield_contains_required field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible' ><label class='gfield_label' for='input_17_5' ><span class='gfield_required'>*</span></label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_text'><input name='input_5' id='input_17_5' type='text' value='' class='large' tabindex='6' placeholder='Company name' aria-required="true" aria-invalid="false" /></div></li><li id='field_17_3' class='gfield gfield_contains_required field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_visible' ><label class='gfield_label' for='input_17_3' ><span class='gfield_required'>*</span></label><div class='ginput_container ginput_container_email'> <input name='input_3' id='input_17_3' type='text' value='' class='large' tabindex='7' placeholder='Your email address' aria-required="true" aria-invalid="false"/> </div></li><li id='field_17_8' class='gfield gform_validation_container field_sublabel_below field_description_below gfield_visibility_' ><label class='gfield_label' for='input_17_8' >Comments</label><div class='ginput_container'><input name='input_8' id='input_17_8' type='text' value='' /></div><div class='gfield_description'>This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.</div></li> </ul></div> <div class='gform_footer top_label'> <input type='submit' id='gform_submit_button_17' class='gform_button button' value='SUBMIT' tabindex='8' onclick='if(window["gf_submitting_17"]){return false;} window["gf_submitting_17"]=true; ' onkeypress='if( event.keyCode == 13 ){ if(window["gf_submitting_17"]){return false;} window["gf_submitting_17"]=true; jQuery("#gform_17").trigger("submit",[true]); }' /> <input type='hidden' name='gform_ajax' value='form_id=17&amp;title=&amp;description=&amp;tabindex=1' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='is_submit_17' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_submit' value='17' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_unique_id' value='' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='state_17' value='WyJbXSIsIjlmNzc1YTEyZmZjNmYyODk5Mzk0NDM3ZjRlOGYyZDNmIl0=' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_target_page_number_17' id='gform_target_page_number_17' value='0' /> <input type='hidden' class='gform_hidden' name='gform_source_page_number_17' id='gform_source_page_number_17' value='1' /> <input type='hidden' name='gform_field_values' value='' /> </div> <p style="display: none !important;"><label>&#916;<textarea name="ak_hp_textarea" cols="45" rows="8" maxlength="100"></textarea></label><input type="hidden" id="ak_js_1" name="ak_js" value="82"/><script>document.getElementById( "ak_js_1" ).setAttribute( "value", ( new Date() ).getTime() );</script></p></form> </div> <iframe style='display:none;width:0px;height:0px;' src='about:blank' name='gform_ajax_frame_17' id='gform_ajax_frame_17'>This iframe contains the logic required to handle Ajax powered Gravity Forms.</iframe> <script type='text/javascript'>jQuery(document).ready(function($){gformInitSpinner( 17, '' );jQuery('#gform_ajax_frame_17').load( function(){var contents = jQuery(this).contents().find('*').html();var is_postback = contents.indexOf('GF_AJAX_POSTBACK') >= 0;if(!is_postback){return;}var form_content = jQuery(this).contents().find('#gform_wrapper_17');var is_confirmation = jQuery(this).contents().find('#gform_confirmation_wrapper_17').length > 0;var is_redirect = contents.indexOf('gformRedirect(){') >= 0;var is_form = form_content.length > 0 && ! is_redirect && ! is_confirmation;if(is_form){jQuery('#gform_wrapper_17').html(form_content.html());if(form_content.hasClass('gform_validation_error')){jQuery('#gform_wrapper_17').addClass('gform_validation_error');} else {jQuery('#gform_wrapper_17').removeClass('gform_validation_error');}setTimeout( function() { /* delay the scroll by 50 milliseconds to fix a bug in chrome */ jQuery(document).scrollTop(jQuery('#gform_wrapper_17').offset().top); }, 50 );if(window['gformInitDatepicker']) {gformInitDatepicker();}if(window['gformInitPriceFields']) {gformInitPriceFields();}var current_page = jQuery('#gform_source_page_number_17').val();gformInitSpinner( 17, '' );jQuery(document).trigger('gform_page_loaded', [17, current_page]);window['gf_submitting_17'] = false;}else if(!is_redirect){var confirmation_content = jQuery(this).contents().find('.GF_AJAX_POSTBACK').html();if(!confirmation_content){confirmation_content = contents;}setTimeout(function(){jQuery('#gform_wrapper_17').replaceWith(confirmation_content);jQuery(document).scrollTop(jQuery('#gf_17').offset().top);jQuery(document).trigger('gform_confirmation_loaded', [17]);window['gf_submitting_17'] = false;}, 50);}else{jQuery('#gform_17').append(contents);if(window['gformRedirect']) {gformRedirect();}}jQuery(document).trigger('gform_post_render', [17, current_page]);} );} );</script><script type='text/javascript'> if(typeof gf_global == 'undefined') var gf_global = {"gf_currency_config":{"name":"U.S. Dollar","symbol_left":"$","symbol_right":"","symbol_padding":"","thousand_separator":",","decimal_separator":".","decimals":2},"base_url":"https:\/\/\/wp-content\/plugins\/gravityforms-asdf111aasdfffs-nope","number_formats":[],"spinnerUrl":"https:\/\/\/wp-content\/plugins\/gravityforms-asdf111aasdfffs-nope\/images\/spinner.gif"};jQuery(document).bind('gform_post_render', function(event, formId, currentPage){if(formId == 17) {if(typeof Placeholders != 'undefined'){ Placeholders.enable(); }} } );jQuery(document).bind('gform_post_conditional_logic', function(event, formId, fields, isInit){} );</script><script type='text/javascript'> jQuery(document).ready(function(){jQuery(document).trigger('gform_post_render', [17, 1]) } ); </script>