Friday, August 2, 2013

Walking down to the edge of town

James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

1st Avenue is unique in Cedar Rapids in that it goes from one end of the town to the other. Interstate 380 ("Avenue of the Saints") and U.S. 30 also do, but those are limited access highways not streets. 1st Avenue begins on the northeast side at the border with Marion, past Collins Road, and goes through several miles of mostly commercial strips until you get to my neighborhood near Coe College. That's where I pick it up; last week Eli and I walked the rest of the length of it, about 8 miles to where it ends in a subdivision, at an intersection with 80th Street West. Along the way it takes you through a number of strata of the town.

(Entering the Coe College campus, at College Drive [13th St])

Between Coe and downtown, 1st Avenue goes through a modest commercial district. This is a mostly "dead zone," but less so on 1st than the other streets. It has a few small collections of restaurants, bars and other shops. The 1100 block on the south side has two restaurants and a bar, convenient to Coe and the medical buildings. A similar bunch is in the 800 block on the north side, with a restaurant, a bar, a cleaners, and my former student's law office.

(1100 block southeast, from Coe's campus)

It also has the new Central Fire Station, which is nearly complete.

(Central Fire Station, 713 1st Av SE, under construction)

Downtown proper, to my mind, begins at 5th Street. As you can see the entry view is dominated by the massive hotel and exhibition center on the north side. As we walked by, the valet parkers were ready and able, but without much business at 11:30 a.m.

(Entering downtown, 1st Av and 5th St SE)

The east and west sides of town are demarcated by the Cedar River. On the left, on Mays' Island, is the Veterans Memorial Building that served as the city hall before the 2008 flood. It is being rehabbed for commercial and conference space, as well as a service facility for disabled veterans.

You can watch the river go by, in the company of Miss Liberty.

Once across the river and into the west side, there is a swath of vacant land. On the south side, that will be the site of the casino and its parking facility. I'm not sure what's going to happen with the north side.

Past St. Patrick's Church...
(St. Patrick's Church, from
...there are a couple more blocks of small shops...

...then at 10th Street it becomes surprisingly residential. (Remember it's been commercial since back at the town line, except for a couple blocks at 27th Street East.) Between 10th and 15th there are some impressive older houses, in various stages of repair.

Past 15th St on the left is Cleveland Park, which we proved yet again is exactly one hour's walk from our house. At 18th St the street dramatically changes character.

Most traffic forks left onto Williams Boulevard; 1st Avenue (the right fork) becomes a quiet residential street. We noticed the change in noise level in less than a block! From here to Edgewood Road it is an older neighborhood. Eli judged the age of the trees by their size; I noted that the houses and lots were mostly smaller than in today's developments. There is also Cleveland School and a number of houses of worship, including Christ Presbyterian, Hillside Wesleyan and the spectacular Islamic Center.

Beyond Edgewood the lots and houses become larger.

Then, at Jacolyn Drive, we switch to condos. Some of them look quite nice.

As we continue along the rental properties become less physically attractive. The area around 1st and Johnson Avenue has become rather notorious. I'm told, on what authority I don't know, that a lot of poor people moved out here when rental properties in Mound View and Wellington Heights were torn down. There are reports of violent crime in the area and more widespread incidents of petty crime. I feel bad for the neighbors, and for the brick apartments in the 5000 block of 1st Av. which have a 50s sort of nostalgic feel. They certainly look sturdy and serviceable; I hope they're not getting trashed.

Once past Johnson 1st Av returns to older neighborhoods with smaller lots. Across from Coolidge School some young boys spotted us. One of them asked Eli if he were "that one guy." Eli said he was.... At the intersection with Stoney Point Rd is the house of State Senator Wally Horn, notable for the stuffed people on the front porch.

Beyond Stoney Point we're back to large lot subdivision. This area has expanded considerably since I first walked across town 10 years ago. (To my recollection it then ended just past Rockvalley Dr.) The most recent development occurs along a tendril of 1st Av...

...with farm fields visible within a couple blocks on either side.

As with Pioneer Drive SE, it didn't seem to us like much building has occurred since we last walked here in 2011, but the city did punch 1st Av all the way through to 80th St.

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