The flood of 2008 will be remembered by all Linn County residents who experienced it, yet the disaster had a particularly devastating impact on the Time Check and west side neighborhoods. Historic buildings and homes were destroyed, and many neighbors were unable to return to their old residences. While the devastation and blight that followed the flood were significant, many longtime residents chose to stay and fight for the revitalization of the neighborhood they love. Ten years after the flood, a monument has been raised to honor the resiliency of those who live in the impacted neighborhoods.
The Northwest Area Neighborhood Association received financial support from a variety of community stakeholders including individuals, organizations and small businesses to fund the project. Al Pierson, owner of Pierson’s Flower Shop and Greenhouses and President of the Neighborhood Association, has deep ties to the close-knit community. He rebuilt his flower shop after the 2008 flood devastated the area as a way to support the neighborhood.
“After the flood, hundreds of houses were torn down. This had been a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood,” he explains. “Some of these homes had been in a family’s possession for generations. They worked in area warehouses and plants. Those industries may have left over the years, but the community stayed.”
Al says that after his flower shop was rebuilt, people from the neighborhood would regularly stop in just to talk. “There was a real sense of loss,” he explains. “There was a sense of ownership in this little community within our city and that was gone, and people wanted to do something to honor that and to honor the resiliency of those who chose to stay and rebuild.”
Eventually, the idea of creating a monument began circulating. The Neighborhood Association decided to raise funds to make the concept a reality. They established a fund at the Community Foundation and started fundraising. In addition to $5 and $10 donations received, the Neighborhood Association reached out to area foundations, businesses and community leaders in their fundraising efforts. Most people were eager to help make the monument idea a reality.
Gary Ficken, Founder and President of Bimm Ridder, identifies his business as a flood victim. “Our business was destroyed,” he says. “Our building had to be torn down, and we took a million dollar loss.” As a result, Gary felt compelled to do something to memorialize the loss. “Often, unless you’re a victim, something like this is just a news story.”
Lu Barron, who was serving as a Linn County Supervisor in 2008, also supported the memorial fundraiser. “One thing I always noticed was that a lot of the people in the northwest neighborhood lived there for their entire lives,” she explains. “Some people lived in homes that had been built by their grandparents.” Lu says that because of the longevity of so many of the residents’ families, it is a very close-knit neighborhood.
The purpose of the West Side Rising monument is to celebrate the history and culture of the hard-working people of the historic Time Check neighborhood of the northwest side of Cedar Rapids. Supporters saw a need for art to beautify the area, to encourage future development and for the public to enjoy. West Side Rising is a tall and beautiful piece of art designed by Novak Design. The memorial stands 25 feet tall with a 30 foot print. It is positioned at O Avenue and 6th Street NW on the dry side of the future river wall. The monument is part of a plaza with benches and brick pavers. Supporters and funders hope the plaza will be an area for reflection and gathering for the community.
The monument was unveiled in a ceremony honoring the ten year anniversary of the devastating flood.
“It’s lovely,” says Lu, reflecting on her first viewing of the monument. “It’s a gateway; it captures the river and the houses that are no longer.”
Gary agrees and hopes the monument will be meaningful, even to those who didn’t experience the flood. “It’s a good reminder for future generations that something terrible happened,” he says, “and we came back from it.”