The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Demolitions of flood-wrecked homes in New Bohemia moved too fast for history

In Floods, New Bohemia on February 16, 2009 at 10:46 pm

History matters.

The city of Cedar Rapids is being reminded of that and of just how particular the federal government can be about the past.

The reminder came after the city demolished six flood-wrecked properties in what in recent years has come to be known as the New Bohemia area along and near Third Street SE south of downtown.

After last June’s flood, all six properties were among the 71 that the city tagged with a purple placard in the city’s worst-to-best color system that went from purple to red to yellow to green. A purple placard signified that the property was too dangerous to enter, and so needed to be demolished.

Among the first of the purple properties to come down were six in The New Bohemia area, which – with the help of City Hall – gained national historic stature in recent years as the Bohemian Commercial District. This was the spot to first house immigrants from Bohemia in what today is the Czech Republic who had come to Cedar Rapids in the latter 19th Century to work nearby in what then was the Sinclair meatpacking site.

What the city has come to learn is that it shouldn’t demolish anything in a nationally recognized historic district without first following federal rules related to the historic recognition.

Those rules are part of the National Historic Preservation Act.

In order to comply with the rules of the federal act, the city is among parties that have signed a memorandum of agreement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an agreement which requires that information on the historic aspects of the six demolished properties be collected and recorded for future reference.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to fund an intensive historic survey of the remaining parts of the Bohemian Commercial District to verify if structures should retain their National Registry eligibility. The FEMA-funded survey also will determine if a National Historic District exists across the Cedar River from the Bohemian Commercial District in Czech Village where the heart of the Czech commercial activity eventually moved.

Vern Zakostelecky, a long-range planning coordinator for the city of Cedar Rapids, said a historic status for Czech Village will give the district access to grants it otherwise would not have access to.

Zakostelecky said the six demolished properties which now will get an historical accounting were at 1308 Second St. SE, 1312 Second St. SE, 1013 Third St. SE, 1019 Third St. SE, 211-213 13th Ave. SE and 1221 Third St. SE.

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