This is a small, two-toned pamphlet from about fifty years ago for the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which for half a century was the primary events venue of Cedar Rapids. The single-fold flier provides a fascinating look back into graphic design, marketing, and publishing techniques of the mid 20th century.
The literature is quaint and unabashed, celebrating a recent renovation of the then 30 or so year-old building. The inside describes the “fine facilities for all events” and advertises the recently built First Street Parkade (now demolished), a mere “100 paces away,” including an illustration. The text would have been form-set type, making inconsistencies of indentation and line break hyphenation curious. The wide format pamphlets were sized to fit a standard business envelope, perfect for mailing to prospective event organizers.
Today the 33 year-old US Cellular Center is undergoing its first major renovation and expansion since opening in 1978, then replacing Vets as the city’s main events venue. Parallels can be drawn between the Coliseum and current arena renovations. Undoubtedly, though, marketing for the new CR Convention Complex will take a much different approach.
After fifty years of gracing Cedar Rapids’ downtown riverfront, the First Street Parkade and its iconic spiral ramp have reached their end. Built in 1961, the four-story ramp would provide over 400 parking spaces for patrons of the downtown retail scene, as competition from newer suburban outlets was increasing. In recent years the structure’s use would be dominated by daytime office workers.
When constructed the new parkade had a commanding presence downtown – few structures at that time occupied the entire length of a city block. Three elevations (north, east and south) that did not face the river were characterized by long, level horizontal planes, articulated by minimalist vertical supports. Along First Street, sections of the top deck wall were clad in dark tinted glass, perhaps an attempt to break up the non-varying facade to relate to the scale of existing storefront buildings across the street.
The river facade was much more dynamic. Angled ramps that let motorists ascend to the top deck were left undisguised, sloping in the same direction as river’s flow. The center was marked by an incredible spiral ramp, partially extending out over the water, cutting through the elegant balustrade lining the existing river wall. Exposed by the demolition process, the concrete spiral was self-supporting, cantilevering from the massive circular core.
While the spiral certainly added a point of visual interest along the river, more impressive was the experience driving down it, framing a sequence of views toward iconic public buildings like City Hall, the county courthouse, and the municipal greenspace of Mays Island. The orientation of views from the ramp reinforced long-standing symbols of civic pride. Likewise the parkade was a new point of pride for the city – a sign of modern progress and optimism for the future, heralded as a means to save downtown from its looming demise.
After the 2008 flood, replacing the First Street Parkade became more imminent, having already reached the end of its useful life. Once demolition is complete the site will be turned into surface parking for the time being – an acceptable temporary use. The important riverfront site is now ripe for redevelopment and, once again, has the opportunity to be a catalyst for downtown progress and civic pride for fifty more years to come. Only this time, it will be for people, not cars.