Cedar Rapids a Stronger Community

Cedar Rapids is no stranger to floods. For as long as anyone can remember, the Cedar River has wreaked havoc on those who live and work close to its banks.

KCRG Photo

KCRG Photo

When a foot of rain fell in communities in northern Iowa two weeks ago, meteorologists predicted the Cedar River would challenge historic levels, and flood the communities along its banks.

It was apparent that Cedar Rapids was on the verge of another major flood only 8 years after the Cedar River rose 20 feet above flood stage. Many found it hard to believe it could happen again so soon.

(It cost the city over $2 billion to restore the downtown area and took it years to recover.)

But instead of panicking, the entire community sprang into action, filling sandbags and moving items from businesses and homes in the downtown area.

Some located available resources and sought shelters for displaced citizens. Others made meals for those who were hungry. Everyone opened their homes and their hearts to those affected by the flood.

In other words, we did the same thing we did 8 years ago, only better. We knew now what to do, and we did it.

Cedar Rapids held its breath as the river began to rise. Drones and social media kept citizens up-to-date on the areas hardest hit, including Ushers Ferry, Seminole Valley and Ellis parks, and areas southeast of the river.

And as the river crested, Ron Corbett, Cedar Rapids’ mayor, that if the Hesco barriers (which they used to build a wall around the downtown area) held, “they would have saved the city.”

The barriers did hold the flood waters back (though there was some controversy about how the city determined where to place the barriers) and the majority of the downtown area was spared.

But it wasn’t just the barriers, the pumps, and the sandbags that saved our city. It was the countless volunteers who poured positive energy into filling sandbags, moving furniture and equipment; those who brought food and water to the volunteers, and worked around the clock to make sure our homes and businesses were safe; these are the real heroes.

It is because of them that we are emerging from this close-call an even stronger community.

Local band, Four Star Fate, wrote a song to pay tribute to the people in our community: “We Rise Above”

Cone’s ‘Little Bohemia’ a reminder of progress in New Bo

little bohemia

Little Bohemia, Marvin Cone, 1941

Hanging in the office of Cedar Rapids Main Street, located at the edge of the city’s historic Czech Village, is a reproduction of a painting by local artist, Marvin Cone.

“Little Bohemia Tavern” was inspired by the actual Little Bohemia Tavern, which is located at the corner of 2nd Street and 16th Avenue SE.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “the corner tavern was one of the first encountered by thirsty workers leaving the Sinclair meatpacking plant” after it opened in 1935. It became an icon when Marvin Cone painted it in 1941. The 1883 building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

After the New Bohemia neighborhood was flooded in 2008, Coe College and the Marvin Cone Art Club commissioned a reproduction of the 1941 painting, with proceeds from its sale supporting flood recovery.

Marvin Cone is an accomplished artist in his own right, but never became quite as famous as his good friend, Grant Wood, who painted “American Gothic.”

Cone was born in Cedar Rapids and lived there most of his life. He graduated from Washington High School in 1910. Cone graduated from Coe College in 1914 and traveled to Paris, where he did work as an interpreter.

He served in the Iowa National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division, during which time he won a training camp design competition with a “Red Bull” insignia that the unit wears to this day.

After his return to the United States in 1919, Cone helped to found the Stone City Art Colony along with Grant Wood. (The Colony was headquartered in the large, limestone mansion of the Green Estate, overlooking Stone City.)

Cone became a professor at Coe College in 1919, where he taught French and was responsible for starting the Art Department.

Most of Cone’s paintings can now be seen at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Some of his sketches can also been found in the permanent collection of the University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art in Cedar Falls.

Cone believed that nature was a “vehicle for revealing certain truths.” He once said that the purpose of art is not to reproduce life, but to present an editorial, a comment on life.

“The artist does not set out to imitate nature. What would be the purpose of that? Let the camera with its clever mechanism imitate. Art, such as poetry, music, and painting, is simply a portion of the experience of the artist. When we actually see ideals, they become real to us. Art traces an abstraction and makes it audible or visual. It symbolizes the whole of life. We believe in something we can see.”

little bos

Little Bohemia Tavern in Cedar Rapids, 2012

Cone’s painting of Little Bohemia says a lot about the neighborhood. The artist did an excellent job of creating a scene that depicted the simple, yet busy, lives of the people who thrived in that neighborhood in the 1940’s. The tavern was a meeting place, not only for the workers, but for the entire community. It helped to establish a culture that is still alive today.

Though the Flood of 2008 devastated the downtown neighborhoods of Cedar Rapids, the entire district is coming back, even better than it was before.

The painting not only serves as a reminder of what the neighborhood once was, but what it will be again.