Second and Third Avenue Historic District

Cedar Rapids City, Linn County, IA

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William and Sue Damour House, Cedar Rapids

Photo: William and Sue Damour House, circa 1917, located in the Historic District, Cedar Rapids. The District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Photographed by User:Kepper66 (own work), 2011, [cc-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2023.

The Second and Third Avenue Historic District is a linear neighborhood extending along Second Avenue SE and Third Avenue SE for nearly seven blocks from just southwest of Fourteenth Street SE on the south to Nineteenth Street SE on the north. The neighborhood is located approximately a mile northeast of the downtown. Both Second Avenue and Third Avenue serve as one-way collector streets (Second Avenue southbound and Third Avenue northbound). Busy First Avenue (U.S. Highway 151) runs parallel to the district carrying five lanes of traffic on a northeast/southwest route through the city.

The Second and Third Avenue Historic District is associated with an important era of intense residential development in Cedar Rapids at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The blocks at the lower end of the district included in the Sever Park Addition highlight the residential neighborhood planning efforts of James and George Bever, local land developers and bankers. Building on the real estate dynasty established by their father Sampson Sever, the brothers established a progressive model for integrating utility services, transportation services, civic improvements, and private landscaping measures in residential development. At the upper end of the district, the Sampson Heights Addition was developed by their sister Ellen Sever Blake who partnered with realtor/developer Malcolm Bolton. Both development efforts were integrally connected with the controversial trial and four-year legal battle that ensued following Sampson Bever's death in 1892.

The Second and Third Street Historic District typified the development of Streetcar Suburbs in Cedar Rapids at the turn of the 20th century. Its occupants represented a cross section of middle and upper income households with prominent business and professional leaders living next door to commercial travelers and railroad workers. Individuals who were leaders in the community and made significant contributions to local industry and commerce as well as the professional and cultural life of the community resided in the district.

The Second and Third Avenue Historic District is a representative collection of the residential architectural styles and vernacular house forms that appeared in Cedar Rapids neighborhoods from the 1890s through the 1930s. Several examples of the work of important Iowa architects have been identified to date with a strong likelihood that more exist. In addition to single family dwellings, the district contains several architecturally significant examples of apartment buildings and two churches.

The Second and Third Avenue Historic District extends along a linear series of blocks that were largely developed over four decades as part of the Bever Park Addition beginning in 1892 and Sampson Heights Addition beginning in 1902. The land in these additions was originally part of farms purchased by Sampson C. Bever in 1851-52 when he first settled in Cedar Rapids. During his lifetime Bever worked as a merchant, land agent, railroad promoter, banker, and real estate developer amassing a considerable fortune in real estate and stock holdings. In 1864 along with his sons Bever formed the City National Bank which came to be known as the "Sever Bank." In future years the efforts of the bank became closely tied to the family's real estate developments with hundreds of advertisements appearing in local newspapers jointly promoting the City National Bank and real estate for sale in various Bever owned residential additions.

By the 1880s with real estate development a booming business in Cedar Rapids, Sampson Bever moved towards retirement from active involvement in the family's various businesses leaving sons James, George, and John in charge. They continued to work in establishing residential additions along First, Second and Third Avenues SE. Lots sold briskly during the decade of the 1880s as Cedar Rapids experienced what was later described as a "town lot boom."

By 1890 population in Cedar Rapids stood at 18,020 and the city saw its boundaries expand with a major annexation that same year. New manufacturing concerns, wholesale distributing operations, and brisk retail sales kept the local economy robust. With all signs pointing toward continued local prosperity, the three Bever brothers formed the Bever Land Company in 1891 for the purpose of subdividing portions of the "Beverly Farm" located southeast of First Avenue.

During this same period, the Bever brothers were involved with a group of local investors to acquire the Marion and CedarRapidsRailwayandtheCedarRapidsStreetRailway. Bothrailwaysoperatedstreetcarsunderhorsedrawn power. The group's objectives were multifold. Some hoped to improve transportation within the city limits, others to provide for a better connection to the county seat town of Marion located several miles northeast of Cedar Rapids, and still others to spur real estate development on the east side of the Cedar River. The real estate holdings of the Bever family and the newly organized Bever Land Company in the southeast quadrant of the city would be especially benefited if the efforts of the group proved successful. After considerable negotiation, several reorganizations, and a franchise buy-out, the new street railway company installed electrified lines in 1891 with one of the routes extending along First Avenue one block away from the Second and Third Avenue Historic District.

Formation of the Bever Land Company had been well-timed to coincide with the 1890 annexation and the completion of the electric street car lines in 1891. The next year, in 1892, the company initiated its first project when it platted 323 acres of the former Beverly Farm into 167 lots as part of the first Bever Park Addition. The addition was so named for a triangular shaped park located along Third Avenue SE between Park Avenue SE and Sixteenth Street SE.

Real estate development was a boom industry in Cedar Rapids between 1900 and1 930-the period when growth was highest in the residential sections south of First Avenue. Population soared 119% in three decades from 25,656 in1900 to 32,811 in 1910, 45,566 in 1920, and 56,097 in 1930. The building of new houses in the Second and Third Avenue Historic District paralleled the increases in population citywide. The first decade after 1900 saw the first houses to be built under the new city ordinance that required building permits for new construction and major remodeling projects. Before World War I, another regulation adopted by the City gave protection to residential neighborhoods through the zoning provisions.

Adapted from: Marlvs A. Svendsen. Svendsen Tvler. Inc. for Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission, Secpmd and THird Avenue Historic District, nomination document, 2000, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Second Street • THird Street

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