Save CR Heritage rescues 115-year-old home, which will become its headquarters

The exterior of the historic house purchased by Save CR Heritage for $1 from Mercy Medical Center. The house is located on 606 Fifth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids. — photo provided and taken by Cindy Hadish

Save CR Heritage has not only saved another older home from demolition, but this time it gained its first headquarters.

Officials at Mercy Medical Center agreed to sell the house on 606 Fifth Ave SE to Save CR Heritage for $1 with a three-year lease on the land. The nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the value of older buildings has been around since 2012 but has not had a home base, Save CR Heritage board member Cindy Hadish said.

Save CR Heritage and Mercy officials were close to reaching an agreement a year ago but the COVID-19 pandemic and Aug. 10 derecho delayed the deal. Ownership of the house was transferred to Save CR Heritage last month, and the agreement was announced in mid-January.

The house will eventually be relocated, and Save CR Heritage is in talks with the city of Cedar Rapids to possibly move it to a vacant lot in Wellington Heights.

“We’ve salvaged many homes over the past few years, and when we saw this [home], we just knew it needed to be saved rather than salvaged because our first priority is maintaining a home or building in place and using it in place,” Hadish told Little Village. “When that can’t be done, we’ve advocated for moving houses. The last resort we salvage homes when we know that they’re going to be demolished, so we prefer not to salvage a beautiful place like this. We tried to find people who would want to move it themselves, and when that fell short, we approached Mercy about letting us use it in place for a while, and they agreed. We’re very grateful for their cooperation in this effort.”

“We’re excited to be able to save a good place.”

The group will use the home to hold meetings, as well as workshops to teach members of the community about repairing older homes.

“We envision doing workshops on how to rehabilitate your windows, so you don’t have to buy new windows if something goes wrong with your old vintage windows, upkeep of hardwood floors, different things like that that people can learn how to take care of their older homes,” Hadish said. “We think that’s really important. We’re in between two older neighborhoods — Wellington Heights is one and Oak Hill Jackson is the other — and there are a lot of older homes there. We think it’s important for homeowners in those neighborhoods to learn these skills, so we’re excited to offer that and have a perfect location to do that from.”

The space will also allow the nonprofit to host salvage sales or help individuals who need materials for their older home.

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

But before the home can be used as a headquarters, a few repairs need to be made. Hadish said some of the first items on the agenda are to repair the roof and front porch, along with installing a new HVAC system and repairing some of the walls.

The group is collecting monetary donations to help with repairs through their Facebook page, as well as in-kind donations. All donations will go toward maintaining the home, Hadish said. Updates and potential volunteering opportunities will also be posted on the Facebook page.

The new headquarters will be known as the J.E. Halvorson House in honor of John Erik Halvorson, a 32-year-old board member who was killed in a car crash on his way to work in March 2020. It was a unanimous decision to name the house after him, Hadish said.

Save CR Heritage’s first headquarters will be known as the J.E. Halvorson House in honor of board member John Erik Halvorson who died in a car crash in March 2020. His wife Nikki is also a board member and helped research the home’s history. — photo provided by Save CR Heritage

“He was a young volunteer, always had brilliant ideas on how to get things done,” Hadish said. “I remember in particular salvaging with him on these difficult situations, how to remove an entire staircase and figure it out and would get it done. He’s an electrician, so he had insight into light fixtures and things like that. A really, really keen mind and a great sense of humor. Somebody we miss every day. Just a good guy to be around one of the best people I know. It was a huge tragedy when he was killed. There was no debate at all that it would be named in his honor.”

Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter and board member Nikki Halvorson did research on the home and found it was built in 1905 and the first occupants, Thomas B.F. and Edith L. Leinbaugh, moved in 1907. The Leinbaughs lived in the home through 1920.

“Saving 606 Fifth Ave SE is so important when you consider it is one of only three houses that still survive on Fifth Avenue SE,” Stoffer Hunter said in a news release. In 1925, this same area had 60 houses.

The house was a single-family home for decades for various 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. The Teacher Store closed down a couple of years ago and the house has been vacant until acquired by Save CR Heritage.

Hadish said it would be nice to use the house by the summer, but it’s more likely that it’ll be ready by early fall.

“We are excited by this, and it’s a big step to have our own place,” Hadish said.

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