Czech Village ghost town

Museum staff make their way Tuesday down 16th Avenue as owners were allowed into Czech Village for the first time since last week\'s floods.    We’re diverging from our gardens a bit to address questions I’ve been hearing about Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, one of the area’s hardest hit by last week’s floods in Iowa.  I was able to go in Tuesday with the business owners and  one of our Gazette photographers, Cliff Jette, for a firsthand look at the devastation. For those of you who went to Houby Days just a few weeks ago, the area is unrecognizable from the vibrant, festive place that it was. What we saw Tuesday looked more like a ghost town, with broken windows, jumbled piles of debris and gray dirt from floodwaters covering every building and every item inside.


   The National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library was the same, with layers of muck on the floors and mud-covered historical artifacts. Ironically, Tuesday would have been a community meeting to discuss the museum’s expansion plans. Now the focus is on cleaning and rebuilding.


   Some business owners plan to clean and reopen; others are unsure. I didn’t see the Sykora’s Bakery owner on Tuesday. I know some people have inquired about that.


    I want to mention one concern for people who are working on cleanup. When I was interviewing the business owners as they waited to get in to Czech Village at the area’s checkpoint, I bent down to talk to one of them and put my hand on the grass. For the next hour or so, until I could wash it off, my hand felt like it was on fire. Health experts are warning about the bacteria and chemicals in the floodwaters and all of that – the gas and oil, and whatever else washed out of garages and elsewhere during the floods –  is now caked onto lawns and everything else it touched. Be careful. Wear rubber gloves when handling anything, as well as respirator masks when you’re going inside these buildings.


   This is the story that ran in today’s Gazette about Czech Village:


Business owners in Czech Village face rebuilding decisions

By Cindy Hadish

The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS  Rebuilding is the obvious answer for some business owners in the Czech Village.

    For others, answers will take time.

   Tuesday was the first day that owners were allowed to see the damage inflicted by last week’s catastrophic floods in the historic business area on 16th Avenue SW.

   “It’s quite the scene,”” said Randy Novak, president of Novak’s Heating and Air Conditioning. “It looks like a tornado hit.””

    As was the case in many stores, mud-encrusted furniture was upside down and items were jumbled into piles by the raging floodwaters.

    Novak is one of the business owners unsure about his future.

   “It’s a tough decision,”” he said. “We like it down here.””

    Rebuilding new elsewhere might be more economical, Novak added.

    The business, in the family since 1934 and in Czech Village since the early 1950s, lost furnaces, air conditioners and other inventory, plus two vehicles.

    Noting that June is typically Novaks’ busiest month and many people would need to replace furnaces that were underwater, Novak said the business is operating from a temporary shop and office.

    Nearby, Nan Barta, owner of the Saddle & Leather Shop, said she would do what she could to rebuild.

    The shop, in the family since 1946, has been a fixture in Czech Village since 1908. A 100-year anniversary celebration was planned for later this year.

     “It’s difficult at best,” Barta, 53, said of the devastation. “This has been my whole life. It has been my parents’ whole life. I loved it.””

    Cookie Vanous, 63, owner of Czech Feather & Down Co., echoed Barta’s sentiments. The business was started by her ancestors in 1875 and has been in Czech Village for 20 years.

   With the help of family, friends and Home Depot, which sent boxes and other materials, Vanous was able to remove nearly everything before the flood, including customers’ orders.

   “I want to save the building because of the history in it,”” she said. “We’ll stay here. It’s our heritage.””

    Engineers will have to determine the structural soundness of the buildings, some of which had flooding near rooflines.

    Al Zindrick, 53, owner of Al’s Red Frog and Zindrick’s Czech Restaurant, hopes to reopen.

    “I really plan on it,”” he said. “I want to be one of the ones to say, `This is not going to get me down.”

    Zindrick lives above the restaurant and was able to get his 92-year-old mother out before the floods came. Their cat was left behind with extra food and water.

   Czech Cottage owner Bob Schaffer left behind his parents’ pets in their apartment above the store. His mother, Jitka, 80, had lived through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II.

  “I hope I’ll find three live cats,”” said Schaffer, 53, as he entered the store, a former pharmacy that has been in business for 33 years selling jewelry — which was removed before the flood — and Czech glass and other gift items. The building was built in 1901.

   Schaffer plans to reopen, but Mike Ferguson, 47, owner of the landmark Polehna’s Meat Market, was unsure.

   His priority Tuesday was finding a hazardous material crew to help remove thousands of pounds of rotting meat in the building.

   “There’s a lot of people worse off from me,” Ferguson said, his voice breaking. “But I lost my future.””

3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Frank Lumir Klepach said,

    My Grandparents lived on 13th street, SW, Cedar Rapids and my father was raised there as were several aunts and cousins, a couple still reside in Ceder Rapids. Numerous of my relatives are burried in the Czech National Cemetary as well. I had the good fortune to visit Cedar Rapids in May, 2005, the first time I was threr since 1960. My wife and I spent a day and a half at the Museum and in Czech Village. We were both in awe at the fabulous collections and the library in the mueeum. It was such a wonderful experience. While there, my late uncle insisted we dine at Zindrick’s Czech resarurant, the best dumplings I’ve ever had, after which my wife spent several hours shopping at the Czech Cottage. Before we could leave my late cousin took us into Sykora’s Bakrey where we purchased some of the best pastries we have ever had.

    We were both sickened viewing the flood waters of the Ceder River on TV as they inundated the city and especially the Czech Village area. We hope and pray that you good people will overcome this tragic event and rebuild Czech Village so it becomes a more vibrant community than ever.

    I would love to again visit Cedar Rapids some day, health permiting. Bless you all…

    Frank Lumir Klepach
    Spring Valley, CA

  2. 2

    Michelle said,

    I work with MicroGiving and met everyone named in this article. If you want to help them you can make donations via paypal at (Directly to them!)

  3. 3

    sandrar said,

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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