“DON’T COUNT ME OUT, I AM KNUTSON”
As told by the Knutson Building
If you are from Cedar Rapids or have lived in the area for any number of years, I’m sure you have driven past me many times. In my present state, you may not have noticed me, as I am old and the years have not been kind to me. I am like the old or fragile that you step around because I have grown less desirable. Don’t underestimate the old or fragile, I have given much to this great community and I have more to give.
I was created in 1887. Local architect, William Fulkerson, gave me my beautiful Romanesque design. His goal was to give me a look that would stand the test of time. He used materials made in Iowa. Many of the products used to create me were produced in the Cedar Rapids area. Make no mistake; I was a true beauty in my day.
I was one of a handful of buildings that were purposely placed on the west side of the Cedar River. I and my good friend, the Mott Building, originally named Iowa Windmill and Pump Co., were the first two beauties to grace the west side; to date, we are the oldest still in existence along the west riverfront. We both had a great purpose; we served the early days as functioning businesses. The Mott building originally gave service to the community as a pump and windmill company. My beginning started as a Cedar Rapids Condensed Milk Factory. I know what you’re thinking; I don’t look like your normal dairy processing plant. William wanted me to serve both a functional purpose, as well as adding beauty to the west bank. The Mott building and I also served to bring new development to the west side. Not only was I a beauty, but I also served our great community by way of expansion and development. After our beginnings, things began to cross the river for further development.
As time passed, my purpose changed. I’ve been used for a broad variety of enterprises. In the mid-1960’s I was home for a business called D&S Glass. I have also been a place where people would gather in friendship for a cocktail and conversation. The lower part of my building was once a tavern called “THE TROPHY LOUNGE”. I have to giggle, and always found it amusing, that they decorated me with stuffed dead animals. In the 1980’s and 90’s, I was used as a place for the growing gay community. I housed a gay dance nightclub that was also in my lower level, where the Trophy Lounge once was. It was called THE WAREHOUSE. At that same time, my upper floor was used for an antique and consignment store. For many years, in the month of October, I would help scare the public as I was used as a haunted house. As of late, the property that I sit on housed a scrap metal yard. That’s when I was named KNUTSON Building. A few years ago I was acquired by the city as fallout from the flood. I have been many entities and have served with much purpose. Unfortunately, care was not given to me. I became an eyesore. My heart was broken. How could something that was once held in such high regard be looked upon with such disdain?
The city eventually built a beautiful police station directly in front of me. Was it to block my ugliness or was I part of a grand master plan? Perhaps there was a plan to bring back the west bank of the Cedar River. In 2008 my thoughts and hopes came crashing down. There was a great flood in Cedar Rapids. The destruction was immense. I was part of that destruction. When the waters receded, the mess was terrifying and horrific. I looked over to the east side of the river, and the downtown buildings had suffered similar destruction. Would I ever rise up from this great disaster? Then I watched the rebuilding take place. It was amazing to see the community come together. With the help of federal funds, I watched the city rebuild and make a comeback. As I watched, a transformation took place. I could not help noticing no one was looking at me. Why was I not getting any attention? I have historical significance, I am a jewel of the city, or at least I thought I was.
With every new rain, I shivered from the cold of the water; I became weaker and grew more tired. As more time passed, the gaping holes in my roof grew larger. I then heard whispering in the community. A company called Hobart Historic Restoration had just purchased my neighbor and friend, the Mott building. With the help of the Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission, City Zoning, and the Cedar Rapids City Council, it was decided that the Mott building would be refurbished. Upon her completion, her beauty was returned to her. She graced the same elegance as when created in 1900. I was envious and hurt when I watched construction giving her new life, anew purpose. I tried to have faith that I would not be overlooked. My deterioration continued. I became so disfigured and unsafe that a giant fence was placed around me to protect the public. I was losing my foothold on the west bank, my end was near.
Then I heard more whispering, more conversations, and this time they were talking about me. Most of the Cedar Rapids Community was ready to give up on me, but the Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission was speaking my name. They were prepared to go to battle for me. It would surely be a losing proposition. Against all odds, this small group of people wanted to give me a new purpose, and a new look. I heard the process was an uphill battle and faced strong opposition from every source. Each time city council met, arguments would be made for my beauty and for my importance to this community and the historic cultural heritage that I offered. The opposition was heavy. The process for restoring a building in such a state of disrepair was not only a great undertaking but also an expensive one. I was fortunate that preservation-minded people came to my rescue. They knew the challenges of historic preservation and held firm in their beliefs. After much effort and determination by those empowered to come to my rescue, the verdict was in. My heart rose when I heard I was not going to be destroyed. I was going to be re-purposed by Hobart Historic Restoration. Both the Mott building and I are in the process of being placed on the Local and National Register of historic places. This will help protect us historically for future generations.
I am so excited. I have great admiration for those who cherish the past, who have preservation vision, and to those who do not mind fighting for the old. It was once said that architecture is one of the most fragile of all the arts. A building made of stone and steel is much less likely to survive than a poem, a symphony, a painting or a book. As a survivor, I will continue to serve my community and be that fine piece of art which tells an important story. With a great deal of gratitude, I give sincere thanks for my new beginning. I am 130 years old, and I look forward to another 130. Thank you!