CEDAR RAPIDS — John George Cherry founded the J.G. Cherry Company as a dairy equipment manufacturing company, but its most permanent physical legacy, the Cherry Building, has evolved into an arts and small business center.
The building, 329 10th Ave. SE, was constructed in 1919 and celebrated its centennial on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, with an open house, live music by the Deep Dish Divas and presentations by historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.
Stoffer Hunter, who recently penned a book about the 100-year history of the building, noted that Cherry arrived in the United States from the United Kingdom in 1869, making his way to join his brother in Troy Mills, in Linn County, Iowa, at age 31.
He received a patent for a jacketed cream can and started his own company in 1880, moving to what is now known as the New Bohemia district in southeast Cedar Rapids.
Stoffer Hunter said the company was a nice alternative to the Sinclair meatpacking plant, which employed many Bohemian immigrants who lived in the neighborhood in the late 1800s through the 1900s.
Of the company’s complex, built along the railroad tracks on 10th Avenue, only the Cherry Building remains. The rest, including a nearly identical building constructed in 1911, was demolished to make way for other industrial needs.
The Cherry Building itself displaced 12 houses on the site, and was “meant to be their pride and joy,” Stoffer Hunter said.
From the beginning, the J.G. Cherry Co. was family oriented, he said, noting that his own great-grandfather was an employee whose bowling scores were always tops in the company newsletter.
Iowa artist Grant Wood was hired to paint images of some of the workers inside the factory in 1925. Reproductions can be seen inside the building.
By 1928, the business merged to form Cherry-Burrell, which was encouraged after World War II to move to the Cedar Rapids “suburbs” at Wilson Avenue and Sixth Street SW. The company was later renamed Evergreen Packaging.
The Cherry Building has since housed a variety of businesses, including Collins Radio during the 1950s and 1960s.
Bob Chadima later located a welding business in the building and eventually established it as a place for artists, with a residential floor, as well.
With more than 100,000 square feet, the building features historic loft-style work spaces with 12-foot-high ceilings and exposed joistwork, full-length factory style windows, solid oak flooring and 30 foot skylights on the third floor.
The Chadima family, under the late Bob Chadima’s son, David, and his wife, Lijun Chadima, continue the family legacy, even rebuilding after the 2008 flood that inundated the building. There are now 44 businesses that call the Cherry Building home, including artists, a law office, an engineering company, photographers and many more.
“Bob Chadima had the vision to take an old building like this and make it something new,” Stoffer Hunter said. “This is an anchor for the neighborhood. It always has been.”
Learn about the Robert Chadima Visionary Awards and see more photos from the Cherry Building Centennial, below: