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Save CR Heritage establishes its first headquarters in a new (old) house, named in honor of J.E. Halvorson


The restored J.E. Halvorson House. — courtesy of Save CR Heritage

Save CR Heritage will be holding a dedication ceremony for its new headquarters on Friday. Appropriately for a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of Cedar Rapids’ historic buildings and advocating for their restoration and reuse, the “new” HQ is a house that’s more than a century old.

Mercy Medical Center, which owned the house at 606 Fifth Ave SE, sold it to Save CR Heritage last December for $1. Mercy continues to own the land it sits on; Save CR Heritage has a three-year lease on the parcel, but will likely need to relocate the structure before the end of the lease.

“We love the location, but we understand why we may have to move,” Save CR Heritage board member Cindy Hadish said.

The house will be the nonprofit’s first official headquarters, and will be named the J.E. Halvorson House, to honor the memory of beloved board member John Erik Halvorson, a board member who was killed in a car crash on his way to work in March 2020. He was 32 years old, and extremely dedicated to preserving historic structures in Cedar Rapids.

The dedication ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday.

Following the ceremony there will be the opportunity to take part in a walking tour of the neighborhood led by Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter, an expert on local buildings. The tour will be repeated on Saturday at 11 a.m. Tickets for the walking tour are $10.

The Halvorson House will be open to the public after each of the walking tours. Face masks will be required to enter the building.

The house was built in 1905, and its first occupants, Thomas B.F. and Edith L. Leinbaugh, moved in 1907. The Leinbaughs lived in the home through 1920, Stoffer Hunter and Save CR Heritage board member Nikki Halvorson discovered when researching the property.

It was a single-family home for decades for many different families. In 2003, it was a gift shop called the Laughing Lilac. Following that, it became the Teacher Store, a nonprofit that offered free classroom supplies to area educators. After the Teacher Store closed, it stood vacant.

Staircase inside the historic house located on 606 Fifth Ave SE in Cedar Rapids, which will be Save CR Heritage’s first headquarters. — photo provided and taken by Cindy Hadish

The house was scheduled to be torn down when Save CR Heritage struck a deal with Mercy for the property. The house was 115 years old when Save CR Heritage took it over, and in need of extensive repair and renovation to be habitable.

“The house cost a dollar, but it took tens of thousands of dollars to make it habitable,” Hadish said. Much of the work had to wait until after the roof was repaired, but kicked into high gear after that.”

“It’s been just a whirlwind of activity.”

The restoration work was supported in part by grants from the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission and the President’s Fund of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. The nonprofit also does its own fundraising, and anyone interested in supporting its work can join for $25.

“There used to be 60 homes like this in just a five block area — from the railroad track to 10th — and now there’s just three,” Hadish told Little Village. “This portion of southeast Cedar Rapids has seen a lot of destruction over the years.”

“We hope to be a stable place for the neighborhood, a unifying force there on that block.”


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