Thorland Company

                   Creative Spaces in Historic Buildings TM


utonutí klenot

(The Drowning Jewel)


A Brief History of 1010 Third Avenue SE


            Important changes took place after the turn-of-the-century along 3rd Street, SE as well. At the north end of 3rd Street Frank Suchý constructed a two-story brick building at 1006 3rd Street SE) in 1907. Suchý operated a jewelry store on the first floor and resided with his wife Theresa on the second floor. The business had previously been located in the shop space next door at 1010 3rd Street SE. Suchý advertised himself as a watchmaker and jeweler continuing at this location until the mid-1930s. As a sign of the times, in 1937 the shop space went from "riches to rags" when it was taken over by Catherine Rouse who sold used clothing here.

                                             (Excerpt from the National Register of Historic Places application p. 15)


The house at 1010 Third Ave SE, according to the National Register of Historic Places application, was built in was originally built as a one-story single-family dwelling in Italianate Style the 1880’s by John Vavra.  The building look on its commercial form by 1889 when two story addition was constructed across its front. This was probably not the same John Vavra who lived in the house around the turn of the century.  There were two John Vavra’s in the city who were born in Bohemia around 1850.  It was probably one of them.


In 1900 the Savel family lived in 1010. The head of the household was Catherine Savel, the widow of Hugh Savel, who had come from Bohemia and listed her profession as restaurant keeper. Her daughters, Clara (a school teacher) and Edith also lived there. The girls were born in Iowa. Hugh Savel had been a tailor.

In 1905 Catherine Savel and her daughter Edith still listed 1010 as home. But so did Frank and Theresa Suchýand children Ella and Joseph. Clara had married John J. Vavra and they lived on 10th Ave., with their son who had been born that year.

In 1907 the Suchý‘s built 1006 next door for their jewelry business and home (upstairs).

In 1910 the Suchý‘s lived in 1006 and continued to do so until sometime in the 1920’s. In 1930 the Suchý‘s listed 2715 Mount Vernon Ave. as home.

In 1910 Clara and John Vavra and their son, John S. Vavra, were living in 1010, with Catherine and Edith Savel. The Vavra family was still in 1010 in 1915.  But by 1920 Catherine and Edit Savel had moved out of the neighborhood and Clara and John Vavra were not listed in the census.


In 1937, 1010 Third Ave SE the shop space went from "riches to rags" when it was taken over by school teacher Catherine Rouse who sold used clothing here. The shop known as The White Elephant sold unwanted items, especially clothing, for more than 70 years. Until the Flood of 2008 the Store had four owners. The last was Ms. Hull and before it was Hull’s mother Agnes Fleangle. (not verified). The shop always had good reputation for honesty and fair prices.

In 2008 the first floor of the building, now owned by Thorland Company, was nearly destroyed by the Flood of 2008.  Since the flood it has been gutted and cleaned, and plans are afoot to rehab this historic structure in 2011.

utonutí klenot  

The Drowning Jewel


Unique art environments presented by the Mount Mercy University New Genres Class including: Travis Schaufenbuel, Tom Cranston, Kayla McIntrye, Namrata Raghvani, Cory Taylor, Ali Cawiezell, and Jane Gilmor  


After researching the historic Suchý /Vavra home at 1010 Third Street SE, in the New Bohemia neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, Mount Mercy University art students have created intermedia environments in which they respond to the current and past of the former White Elephant building. A brief as well as a more detailed history of the building is available at the entrance. Each student has provided a title and statement about their work posted on the wall near their installation. These statements are also provided below.





utonutí klenot  (The Drowning Jewel)


Tom Cranston


Floods are one of the most destructive and disorienting forces we have on earth. A flood can level an entire house and leave nothing but bare remnants of what was once there. In my room it is immediately clear that the Flood of 2008 stripped it down to a husk of old water stained boards. The glass bowls hanging from the ceiling with transparencies of the house’s history and occupants are there to give the viewer the feeling of being submerged by the force of the flood while showing that a flood doesn’t discriminate when it comes to historic buildings. Incorporating a time line of the various occupants and uses the house serves as a memorial to the historical importance of the house. Currently the house's existence may be in limbo.  My installation focuses on the history that will be lost if the house were to be demolished.




Cracks in The Wall  (large room top of stairs)

Cory Taylor


Czech immigrants were once filled this area of Cedar Rapids with their homes and businesses.  In most cases the first generations of immigrants to this country were men alone working towards bringing their families to America. The Czechs, however, would bring their entire family with them to America, in particular, to Cedar Rapids. This is one reason why Czechoslovakians in Cedar Rapids had such a strong educational and social community.

My room uses my research of the early Czech immigration to this area by combining maps of both the Eastern European homeland and the final settling points in Cedar Rapids for many Czechs. Families during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took on a very long journey from their homeland to this entirely new world. The journey from Czechoslovakia through the United States into Iowa, and finally Cedar Rapids, may have taken years just for one family. The Czech community here attracted more Czechoslovakians and other immigrant nationalities because it was open to many religious views and not biased about a workers national origins. 

In my installation I have incorporated maps painted on the walls and papered to the floor. These maps are from downtown Cedar Rapids in the early 20th century through the present and of Prague or Czechoslovakia as it was and as it is now.  My wall paintings track the migrations of these immigrants and their integration over time into the Cedar Rapids community. The layers of maps overlapping and collaged on the floor reference the gradual assimilation of these immigrants into Cedar Rapids culture, while keeping some of their old world traditions and language. The trunk is one I got from a grandparent and used for my toys for many years as a child. It is very similar to the traveling trunks used by immigrants of this era.


práce pro rodinu


Travis Schaufenbuel  (closet to left of stairs)


The newfound knowledge that early Czech immigrants to Cedar Rapids often came with an education and a profession intrigued me.  I was surprised to learn this. Because they had both, many were able to set up businesses and increase their financial standing very fast. This house was owned by the Suchy family in the early 1900’s. They first built their home near the back of the lot, and then added on a storefront for their watch making jewelry business. Through research I have found that Czech jewelry of that time was not necessarily made from precious metals or rare stones but is made of beautifully crafted glass or from lesser value stones. Although not extremely lavish it is quite beautiful.



My small closet refers to the fact that the family lived where they worked making life and work closely connected. In my room I tried remove any distractions and place the display case in the room set up to imitate a jewelry display case. I wanted top save the original walls of the upper portion of the room with peeling wallpaper, but I painted the lower portion so I could emphasize the past vs. the present. I placed miniature furniture inside the display case almost as if that there is someone living there. On the furniture are large pieces of jewelry referencing the intertwined nature of work and life for this and many other immigrant families. The importance of having a lucrative business is emphasized more by a series of photographs I took of the jewelry on the miniature furniture. Taken out of the context of the glass container there is a strange shift in scale also emphasizing the importance of the business to family life.  These photos are also an homage to the hard working families who settled this area of Cedar Rapids in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.



voda pokoj (water room)


Kayla McIntyre (closet near sink upstairs)


Drawing from the old White Elephant building’s history as a domestic dwelling at the turn of the century, and from my recollections of the devastation caused by both of the major Cedar Rapids floods, I have created a space that includes both positive and negative references to the powers of water. Although most think of water as a vital substance for the body, water also has extremely destructive properties. In my installation, I want to separate these two extremes in a private domestic space that once provided the amenities of water and was later destroyed by it.


On one side of the closet, you see the Ball (Mason or canning) jars lined up in rows on shelves and filled with the dirty “flood” water. The paint on the back of the shelving is peeling away, and the shelves and floor are dirty as they were after the flood of 2008. On the other side of the closet you see the room, as the early twentieth century Vavra or Suchy families would have used it for clean drinking and hand-washing water. In the background you hear a constant stream of rushing water. Though you are hearing the flow of water in this sound track, it is not clear whether that water is clean or dirty, whether it is providing for the necessities of life or taking them away.


krásné banka (The Beautiful Bank) or Hidden Treasures

(Front room upstairs with blue walls)


Namrata Raghvani


This room makes reference to the way the people lived during the 1900s in this immigrant neighborhood of Cedar Rapids. In our discussions with Jan Stoffer and Marc Hunter of the Czech Museum, we learned that the early Czech business families did not trust banks and that, in fact, there were no banks in Cedar Rapids in the late nineteenth century when this house was built. Families like the Suchy’s and Vavra’s were known to hide their valuables in their homes and to be very frugal with money in general. Since the Suchy family had the labor portion of their jewelry, watch- making business in the upstairs of this home, they may have hidden their money here. This room also served as a living space for some of the time these families lived here.

If you look around the room, we have money hidden in various places, in cracks and behind the peeling paint and under the rug, just to name a few. We also have stacks of newspaper to show how everything was kept and reused instead of being thrown away. Under every carpeted floor would be a layer of newspapers for insulation purposes and wherever there were not newspapers covered by carpets, there was a beautiful oak floor.  If you look closely our newspapers (stacked higher than they would have been to indicate the number of years of use) have headlines from the early twentieth century as well as a few hidden jewels and some cash!  We used some real dollars! For those of you who might be tempted, there is a security camera monitoring your every move.



and Ali  Cawiezell

Our room is about hiding things. At the turn of the century, few Czech immigrants trusted banks. So they protected their treasures their own way. When we first saw this room it was an empty with only old newspapers on the floor and old locks on the door. So we created a fiction that this was the room where a family once kept their business profits and prized possessions safe. We began collecting newspaper, old pictures, old Gazette front pages, old dresses, rugs, and a chair. We wanted to give it a feel of an actual room of an earlier twentieth century time period, so we decorated it with the pictures and a little paint. We were fascinated by their use of newspapers as insulation, so we laid hundreds of newspaper on the floor and a rug on top to exaggerate this practice. We also hid money all over the room and then put locks on the door to keep our hidden treasures extra safe.

Thank You


Special Thanks to the following individuals and organizations for making this educational project possible. 


Thanks to Lijun and Bob Chadima of Thorland Company for their generosity in allowing us to use their historic building (and to Bob for some good stories about John Vavra, Jr.). Dr. John Marsden, Provost of Mount Mercy University gave the okay for this off-campus community-based project and Barb Pooley, Vice President of Finance at Mount Mercy made sure we had insurance coverage and a contract, Our research began with a visit to the site with Jan Stoffer of the Czech Museum and Marc Hunter, historian. They referred us to Tom at the Cedar Rapids History Center as well. Marilyn Murphy, Director of Mount Mercy University Library was indispensable in our search for search for several historical mysteries concerning the buildings occupants.  Special thanks to David Van Allen for carpentry work and to Czech exchange student Veronica Teranova for her hours of labor and her Czech translations. Thanks also to all those immigrant families who once lived and shopped in this neighborhood. Many are anonymous to us today, but are not forgotten.