The once and future Olympic Theater

Once upon a time in Cedar Rapids, there was an Olympic Theatre. Located at 1124 3rd St, the records of the History Center show that it was built as a private home, but became the Olympic in 1912, remaining under that name until 1939. “The building showed silent flicks early on and then often showed […]

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Art “Superman” Pennington, a Negro Leagues legend and longtime Cedar Rapidian, may soon be recognized as a Major League All-Star

There’s a few key facts about Superman that are pretty universally known. He’s more powerful than a locomotive. He’s able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. And Superman is renowned for being faster than a speeding bullet. Cedar Rapids had its own Superman. And Art “Superman” Pennington — who lived there from the […]

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‘It really made an impact on much more than just this family’: Harris home added to National Register of Historic Places

The home of Cedar Rapids civil rights pioneers Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this month, almost 60 years after the family challenged discriminatory housing practices to create that home. The house is the fourth site in Iowa honoring African American civil rights. “The site is […]

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‘Understanding who you are and where you’re from’: Cedar Rapids’ Czech School has been keeping traditions alive for 150 years

When Mandy Vaughn’s two children became old enough to attend the Cedar Rapids Czech School, she was excited for them to learn the culture, songs and traditions that have been in her family for generations. Mandy went to Czech School as a child, as did her mother, Mary Haster. “It’s kind of come full circle in a sense,” Mandy said about her daughter […]

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‘Don’t let this remarkable story ever die’: The Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building in Cedar Rapids is now open

When his mother was growing up, she vowed she’d never marry a doctor, Peter Harris said. Lileah Furgerson was the daughter of a doctor, and knew the long hours they worked. The audience at the dedication ceremony for the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris building laughed when Peter mentioned his mother’s vow. Lileah did, in fact, end up marrying a doctor: Percy Harris, the first black physician in Cedar Rapids. The couple […]

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‘Quite a little fight’ — the Harris family’s move to Bever Avenue was an early step forward in Cedar Rapids integration

At Percy Harris’ Memorial Service on Jan.30 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, Ted Townsend, the president of St. Luke’s Hospital, began his eulogy for Dr. Harris by saying that before he met him, he’d heard so many good things about him that he was surprised to find out he was still alive. It was a funny line and on the edge of inappropriate for a memorial, but would have tickled Harris’ famous sense of humor. It would be difficult to find someone in Cedar Rapids who has a bad word to say about Harris. He devoted his life to serving Cedar Rapids, becoming its first black physician in 1957. He later served as the Linn County Medical Examiner, President of Medical Staff at St. Luke’s and for two terms as a member of the Iowa Board of Regents.

One of the most famous incidents of Harris’ life was the controversy that surrounded the 1961 decision of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church — where he was, according to fellow parishioner Carolyn Wellso, the only African American member — to sell him a lot on which to build his home. Robert Armstrong, owner of Armstrong’s Department Store, had donated land adjacent to his Bever Avenue home to the church as a contribution to its building fund; he proposed to the board that they sell a lot to Harris. […]

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