Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The floodwaters are receding

The massive stained glass window in the Cedar Rapids veterans' coliseum has survived the flood. The coliseum is one of the three federal buildings on May's Island in the middle of the Cedar River. The island was completely submerged in the flood, and in the few aerial shots I saw, the waters looked as though they climbed about a third of the way up the window.

The window was designed by Grant Wood after the first world war. It features an angelic female figure hovering over six American soldiers representing the six major wars America participated in before 1928, when the window was commissioned. The model for the female figure was Grant Wood's sister, Nan Wood Graham, who is best known as the model for the dour wife in Grant Wood's iconic American Gothic. The window also comes with a great story—click here to read about it.
Amid all the destruction the flood caused, there is a striking beauty in this image. The benevolent figure hovers over the mud and muck left behind, and the window's reflection in the puddle gives the promise of hope that early daffodils bring at the end of a harsh winter.

The beautiful Paramount Theatre didn't fare as well. Built in the 1920s, it shimmered in ornate rococo reds and golds, with grand staircases, dramatic balconies, alcoves filled with statuary, mysterious catacombs, a mirrored lobby inspired by Versailles, and hundreds of happy memories for me as an audience member and performer in the 32 years I lived in Cedar Rapids. The floodwaters rose just below the marquee last weekend, and in their fury, they managed to knock the entire wall of front doors out of its framing and onto the marbled ticket lobby floor:

While the mud and the muck pose a formidable cleaning challenge alone, I wonder what hidden damage the water did to the marble walls and the two sub-basements of dressing rooms, boiler rooms and storage.

Here is what's left of the mighty Wurlitzer organ, which sat on hydraulics in the 2,000-seat theater's orchestra pit. The water obviously floated it out of the pit and banged it around before leaving it dead and broken on the stage. There was no power on in the Paramount when this picture was taken, so the wreckage in its dramatic shafts of dark and sunlight evoke the early images of the debris fields when the Titanic was finally found 20 years ago:

Fortunately, the organ's pipes are high in the theater's walls, where the only damage they could have sustained is from humidity and mold. I'm sure we have a lot more disheartening discoveries all across Cedar Rapids before people can repair and rebuild their lives.

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