The historic Cherry Building celebrates 100 years of community, creativity

Cherry Building Centennial Celebration

329 10th Ave SE, Cedar Rapids — Saturday, Sept. 14 at 10 a.m.

The outside of the Cherry Building on Sept. 9, 2019. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Mark Stoffer Hunter, the leading historian of Cedar Rapids and its buildings, was researching the history of the New Bo District’s Cherry Building when he spotted a familiar face in an old photo. It was his great-grandfather.

Also in the photo was a member of the Chadima family. Stoffer Hunter showed the photo to David Chadima, who currently owns the Cherry Building with his wife Lijun.

It was one of many synchronicities Stoffer Hunter encountered in the course of writing his book, 100 Years: The Cherry Building in Cedar Rapids.

“The building in its 100th year is this great full-circle story,” Stoffer Hunter said. “Not only has the neighborhood come back as strong as it was in 1919, but this building was meant to be an anchor symbol for the neighborhood because of its size and architecture. … It’s seen as an anchor for the neighborhood today because it’s such a pioneer of the current New Bo neighborhood.”

Stoffer Hunter will be discussing the building’s history and his book at the centennial celebration on Saturday, Sept. 14. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will also feature an open house and live music from Deep Dish Divas. It is free and open to the public.

Despite the century that’s passed, Stoffer Hunter said the building looks and has an atmosphere similar to when it was first built.

“It wasn’t just a place to work, it was a real community — just like it is today,” Stoffer Hunter said. “What struck me the most, as part of the full-circle idea, was this was a really warm, welcoming, friendly building in all of its history.”

Maintaining the historic character of the building was also very important to the Chadimas. They’ve worked to maintain the original character of the building, even after the 2008 floods, which required them to redo the basement and first floor.

The couple has also thought about ways to make the building more visible. Earlier this year, a giant cherry sculpture created by artist Todd Sabin and commemorating the 100th anniversary was placed at the building’s 11th Avenue entrance.

The giant cherry sculpture was created by artist Todd Sabin to celebrate the building’s 100th anniversary. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The Cherry Building was built in 1919 by the J.G. Cherry Company as a dairy equipment manufacturing plant. It was the last of three Cherry Company buildings to be built, and it’s the only one left standing, Stoffer Hunter said. The other buildings — including one built in 1911 that looked identical to the 1919 building — were torn down in 1988.

J.G. Cherry Company (later known as the Cherry-Burrell Company after a merger) called the Cherry Building home for about 25 years. The building and its workers were depicted in a series of paintings by artist Grant Wood in 1925.

After World War II, the Collins Radio Company, one of Cedar Rapids’ most important companies, took over the building. By the mid-1970s, the building was empty. (Collins had evolved into Rockwell Collins, and outgrown the Cherry.) In 1976, Bob Chadima bought the building and moved his welding supply business into the first floor. He rented the third floor to artists in the community.

Bob Chadima’s son and daughter-in-law, David and Lijun, purchased half of the building in 1999. When Bob Chadima passed away in March 2016, the couple inherited the second half.

“You have the Cherry family story, the Collins Radio family story, the Chadima family story,” Stoffer Hunter said. “Everything is about a community. It’s a mini-city within the city. That’s what this building is all about.”

But the neighborhood surrounding the Cherry Building when Bob Chadima bought it was not like it is now. The whole area was seen as blighted.

Stoffer Hunter, the Chadimas and others who lived in the area got together in 2003 to think about how to revive the neighborhood. That’s where the name New Bohemia originated.

“All of us involved with forming New Bo, including the Chadimas, felt that arts and culture needed to be the focus of this neighborhood,” Stoffer Hunter said. “This needed to be an artistic neighborhood and this is where the arts and culture would thrive. The Chadima vision for the Cherry Building was that it would be one of the cultural centers of the neighborhood.”

The combination of artists and entrepreneurs, along with the building’s history, are two of the aspects Sue Millar enjoys most. Millar’s woodwind and brass repair business is one of more than 40 businesses housed within the historic building.

“People are really invested in the history of this building,” Millar said. “Lots of people have gone through here and have worked for different businesses throughout the years, and there’s a real connection to the community with the neighborhood.”

The Cherry Building is home to more than 40 businesses and artists. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

One of the Chadimas’ goals, David said, is to continue accommodating a combination of artists and entrepreneurs in the building and make the building a center of creativity. The building’s tagline, “Where creativity works,” really sums up its character, Lijun Chadima added.

“The thing that’s really unique about the building is the combination of entrepreneurs and artists, and that’s something really unique in Cedar Rapids,” David Chadima said. “That’s something we definitely want to continue on. Sometimes developers come in and say, ‘We’d like to buy the building and put in condominiums’ or something like that, and that would just ruin the character of the whole neighborhood — not only our building. Our current position is making a center of creativity for both artists and entrepreneurs.”

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