Cedar Rapids Area Association of REALTORS® (CRAAR) History
At the 1916 National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) convention in New Orleans, the term Realtors was adopted to designate members. The name became official, and NAREB members have exclusive right to its use.
The following year, on October 19, 1917, fifty-nine persons came together and chartered the Cedar Rapids Real Estate Board (CRREB). George B. Ainslie was the unofficial “acting secretary” during the first years of the CRREB; the group hoped their alliance would enable them to accomplish things they would have trouble doing on their own.
The membership grew slowly, and became active in Cedar Rapids housing and living-condition affairs. Board members Glen Strickland, O.P. Meyers, Clare Doolittle, and a Mr. Clark spent several years in the 1920s developing a city building code. In 1924, the Realtors surveyed all people being delayed by railroad crossings in the city, and they counted pedestrians, automobiles, and passengers in automobiles. That same year the members of the CRREB discussed “the Fourth Street Problem” and decided the railroad tracks there should be removed.
The CRREB had 77 members in 1924, and John J. Wagner was president. That year they sponsored a film “The Great Idea,” about the perfect home. They had an annual membership meeting, and member James Yuill later recalled their serving “Volstead drinks,” that is drinks named after a Congressman who had authored a prohibition act.
Helen Robinson (later Mrs. Don Hines) became the Board’s first paid secretary in 1924. The treasury balance at the end of that year was $122.26. Their Appraisal Committee became quite active, and in 1924 appraised property with a total value of $1,461,227.30.
During the 1920s, the Board established some ground rules in real estate sales. In 1923, a real estate broker who was not a member of the CRREB was stopped from using the word “Realtor” in his advertisement. Northwestern Bell Telephone Company agreed, in 1925, to place the work “Realtor” after their listing of names of Board members in the directory. In 1925, Board members passed a motion to make the minimum commission $25.00.
Board member James Yuill writes memoirs of these organizational days in the 1920s:
We changed deeds, contract forms, leases, offer and acceptance agreements many times. Annexation was discussed at some meeting each year, and it’s hard to understand how Hiawatha was organized without objection from the Board.
The Arbitration Committee was active. We had arbitration from the time the Board was organized, and to me it represents an object of the Board – to get members to work together and be honorable in their dealings with one another. Fines are not the answer.
We have had our battles with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, but they have done more than their share to advance the interests of the REALTOR®, especially on Naomi Doebel’s page.
In 1924 an Editorial in the Quad City Times stated that commissions charged by real estate men were exorbitant and that the city was overrun with real estate agents. The matter was discussed by it was thought best nothing be done about it.
CRREB won the Achievement Award for four consecutive years at the State Realtors Convention in the 1920s; members Bruce West, Henry Ely, and George Ainslie were responsible for this.
The Board was always willing to assist and give free of charge for a municipal project, such as assisting the American Legion in promoting the Veterans Memorial Building. The CRREB was active in clean-up work, and in the old days assisted the police in preventing damage on Halloween night.
In 1926 there were 35 members of the CRREB’s multiple-listings bureau, and these listings by 1926 had sold nearly 500 Cedar Rapids homes. The Board’s self-stated reasons for starting the bureau were “to advance Cedar Rapids, for professional cooperation with each other and property owners, and for social reasons.”
At the same time, the CRREB continued to work toward boosting its own image and the image of Cedar Rapids as a good place to live. The Cedar Rapids Republican devoted one full page to the CRREB in February 1926, and featured each member’s picture with information about his firm. Helen Robinson, Board Secretary, was included; at that time she was the only woman closely associated with the Board.
In April of the next year, a Chicago Herald Examiner staff writer, Fred D. Palsey, visited Cedar Rapids and gave it a favorable rating. He said, “I’ve traveled from coast to coast and never seen its equal. . . I never again expect to feast my eyes on such a civic center—its setting is an island. It eclipses that of San Francisco which up to now I had considered the finest in the country. Cedar Rapids is utopia come true. . .I believe Cedar Rapids deserves the title of America’s most beautiful city. . .you don’t go through Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids goes through you.”
As the CRREB became more established, the city of Cedar Rapids continued to grow. Near the end of the 1920s, Cedar Rapids had almost doubled its turn-of-the-century population of 25,000. The Board’s Appraisal Committee continued its work, and in 1929 three of its members won first place in residence property appraisal at the State convention. The members were John J. Wagner, Paul H. Bedell, and A.F. Dotson, and three of them had matched the Davenport appraisal of the property to the dollar.
Board Member Yuill shares more memoirs of the end of the ‘20s decade in Cedar Rapids real estate: In my memory the most sales by a salesman was one a days for a month; as I remember, 25 or the 30 houses sold were repossessed within a year’s time. We generally expected to sell a house three times before it stayed sold.
As Cedar Rapids entered the 1930s and a housing shortage began to be felt, the CRREB wanted to do property appraisals as the basis for property taxes. Taxpayers were opposed to this, calling the CRREB “too optimistic” in the face of lowering property values. The matter caused quite a local controversy, and the CRREB defended itself against the public criticism by saying, in the words of John J. Emery, Board member, that the Board had no hand in looking for the appraiser’s job, and had been approached by the city assessor’s office.
In 1932, the State Realtors Convention was held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Cedar Rapids. Mayor W.H. Stepanek and Board member James Yuill gave welcome addresses. Yuill, President of the CRREB at that time, told a few Depression stories, such as this one: I was talking with a Mr. F.A. Bell from Oskaloosa the other day and he told me about going up to Minnesota to sell 80 out. He said ‘Fine.’ I said ‘Did you sell the farm?’ He said ‘I should say I did, and when the fellow wasn’t looking, I slipped him another 80!’
Henry A. Wallace, editor of Wallace’s Farmer and Iowa Homestead, spoke at the Convention. He was soon to become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and later the nation’s vice-president.
Other speakers at the 1937 State Convention included Herbert U. Nelson, CRREB Executive Secretary; A. John Berge, NAREB sales councilor; G.C. Greenwalt, Secretary of State and Real Estate Commissioner; D.L. Wood, Secretary to the Real Estate Commissioner; A. Morton Bodfish, member of Federal Home Loan Bank Board; Arch Madden, President of Iowa Association of Real Estate Boards, and Col. C.B. Robbins, President of 8th District, Federal Home Loan Bank.
In 1932 and other years the CRREB meetings were held at the YMCA. At that time James Yuill was president, and his Board of Directors included J.M. Tallman, George Johnson, O.P. Meyers, H.J. Soper, and A.F. Dotson. According to Yuill, “The Board was hard-pressed to exist. We decided after due consideration to keep the Board office in the old Cedar Rapids Savings Bank Building (later the Guaranty Bank Building) at a rental of $10 a month. Our secretary, Mrs. Hines, on a part-time basis, agreed to remain on staff at a 10% cut in wages.”
Membership had decreased by this time, down to 51 members from the 1923 high total of 77. One year later, 1933, saw a membership drop to 44 members. Average attendance at the 1932 meetings was 21.
Yuill continues his narration about the early days of the CRREB: For the 1932 annual meeting dinner was to be paid for by the individual, and O.P. Meyers suggested that a good dinner could be had for 25 or 35 cents. The Board voted that a dinner be arranged not to cost more than 35 cents. The dinner was held at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the price was 35 cents.
During the early 1930s, the CRREB remained active in improving life for homeowners and renters in Cedar Rapids. They fought to improve the methods used by electricians, and in 1934 actively promoted a professional baseball team for Cedar Rapids. They tried to limit property taxes, and urged the state legislature to limit levies on real estate to one-percent of the assessed value.
Board member Horace Hedges was active for years in the Iowa Taxpayers League.
The Hotel Montrose in Cedar Rapids was the site for the 1936 North-Central Regional Convention of Realtors. Realtors from Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska held an optimistic meeting, and new opportunities for Realtors were forecast. Speaker William D. Davis, of Kansas City, Missouri, told the Realtors: Iowa is headed straight for a farmland boom that will see prices surpass even the peak figures of the World War I.
A year later the CRREB joined the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and several building and appliance firms in sponsoring the Better Homes show and Appliance Exhibit at the Memorial Coliseum. The CRREB donated $150 in prize money for the five-day show; the prize money went to a contest in miniature housebuilding for Cedar Rapids children.
A housing shortage began to be seen in the late 1930s, was to bee an issue for Realtors throughout and up until the 1950s. Frank Buser, in 1937, predicted a demand for new homes and an increase in construction. He noted the number of marriages and newcomers in the Cedar Rapids area, as well as the availability of lots and good financing terms.
In that same year, Realtor Horace G. “Cap” Hedges retired as a Big Ten football official after 25 years. His officiating philosophy was simple: “Don’t criticize me for the plays I call. I saw those. If there was something I missed . . .I’m open to criticism, but never on the ones I call.” (Cedar Rapids Gazette, December 19, 1937).
John J. Wagner, CRREB member and member of the Iowa Real Estate Board’s license committee, proposed an amendment to the state law governing real estate broker licensure. He recommended that this law be taken out of the Secretary of State’s hands and placed into the hands of a real estate commission appointed by the Governor. He also recommended that a greater portion of the collected fees be used for dealers’ benefits.
Though the CRREB had existed not much more than two decades, they honored their past presidents at a 1939 luncheon. Former President Horace Hedges gave a history of the Board. His father, George T. Hedges, had been the Board’s first president. Among those attending the luncheon were: Malcolm V. Bolton, Henry S. Ely, A.G. Bauder, John J. Wagner, Paul Clark, John Finney, John B. Emery, James Yuill, Paul H. Bedell, George E. Johnson, Bruce A. West, and Frank L. Buser.
By 1940, despite the construction of about 500 new housing units, the housing situation in Cedar Rapids was tighter than it had been in sixteen years. While the nationally accepted vacancy figure was 4%, the CRREB’s annual survey that year showed it to be not quite 1% in Cedar Rapids.
In 1941 the CRREB sponsored an advertisement-writing contest, and Henry S. Ely won first prize. Second prize went to James L. Munger, third to Alice Gustafsson, and fourth to Bruce A. West. Again, in that year, the 1941 convention of Iowa Real Estate Boards was held in Cedar Rapids. Philip Kniskern, of Philadelphia, president of the NAREB, was guest speaker.
Membership of the CRREB slowly started climbing again, with 76 member listed in 1943. Part of the growth in the CRREB might be attributed to the good press it consistently received from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, particularly from staff writer Neomi Doebel, editor of the Gazette’s building and real estate page. Doebel’s efforts did not go unnoticed, for in 1943 she was awarded first place in a national newspaper real estate page contest sponsored by the NAREB.
Frank Buser, president of the CRREB in 1943, announced at their annual meeting that the year had been one of their best, and that membership had nearly doubled during his presidency.
The CRREB was concerned with educating its members, and 1944 conducted a sales institute, which covered appraising, advertising, and selling real estate. Realtors from Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Manchester, Tipton, and Vinton were invited to attend. Several years later, in 1949, the CRREB sponsored short courses for its members, including “Essentials of the Real Estate Transaction,” and “Essentials of Good Residential Construction.” The former course was given by Charles Penningroth, a Cedar Rapids attorney.
In the meantime, one CRREB member was achieving national recognition. John J. Wagner, past president, received an appointment to the Realtor-lawyer committee of the NAREB in 1945. Wagner was still a member of that committee in 1961 when he became the first Cedar Rapidian to be named Iowa Realtor of the Year. Wagner also served for a time as president of the Iowa State Board of Realtors.
Women had been almost entirely absent from participation in the CRREB in its early years. With the exception of their secretary, Mrs. Joe Hines, the Board had little contact with women in the realty business, partly because there were so few women in the business. By the 1940s, however, all that was changing, and in 1947 the CRREB had twelve women members, three of whom were brokers with their own sales forces.
Among other exciting events of the year, 1947 was the year of the CRREB’s thirtieth anniversary. Ten charter members who still lived in Cedar Rapids attended the special meeting: Malcolm V. Bolton, Frank L. Buser, Henry S. Ely, Ralph Evans, James Hunter, I.M. Preston, B.E. Skinner, H.J. Soper, J.M. Tallman, and John J. Wagner.
Charter member Homer D. Critten who had since moved to Aurora, Illinois, also attended the meeting. Letters were read from other charter members, including George B. Ainslie of Spokane, Washington; H.L. Nehls of Minneapolis; and Alfred J. Towne of Beverly Hills, California. CRREB member Larry Vavra led community singing at the anniversary meeting.
Other business made 1947 an exciting year for the CRREB. At another meeting that year, Herbert S. Stamats (president of the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce) said, “Cedar Rapids is bursting at its seams.” He suggested that Cedar Rapids was running out of room for residential expansion and urged that the building code be revised to “avoid featherbedding and to take into account new materials and new methods of construction.”
The minimum fee for selling a vacant lot was raised by the CRREB from $25 to $50 on February 3, 1947, because the work involved in handling these sales was more than that required for sales which often had lower commissions.
At an early 1947 CRREB meeting, President Gary Gohmann urged fair play in real estate transactions to members. He cited instances in which Board members had violated by-laws by poaching on other dealer’s projects and by trying to keep exclusive listings of salable property.
Women in the real estate world were beginning to receive their due, and in 1947 Gazette writer, Mrs. Doebel, became secretary to the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Alice Gustafsson, who entered the business in 1939, headed an all-women firm and was the first woman Realtor to serve on the CRREB Board of Directors. In 1948, she was elected state president of the Women’s Council of the Nation Association.
Board member Horace G. Hedges was appointed to the Iowa Development Commission by Governor Robert D. Blue, in 1948. That same year the CRREB, along with 240 other boards across the country, received a gavel made from wood grown at former U.S. President Jefferson and Washington’s homes, Monticello and Mount Vernon. A steel band, made from the deck plating of USS Missouri (the ship on which the Japanese signed the 1945 surrender), was fitted around the head of the gavel. The CRREB again hosted the annual convention of the Iowa Association of Realtors in 1948, at the Montrose Hotel.
Past President John J. Wagner and his wife attended the 41st annual convention of the NAREB in New York, in November 1948. Wagner was by then president of the National Institute of Real Estate Brokers, an affiliated of the NAREB.
Members of the CRREB went on record in 1949 opposing at state legislative proposal to pass an enabling act that would make Iowa participation in a socialized federal housing program possible. The CRREB recommended that Iowa’s share of the $16 billion-appropriation remain in the federal treasury so “burdensome taxation and the resultant high prices may be reduced.”
Larry Vavra, president of the CRREB, was elected a senior-vice president of the Iowa Real Estate Commission in September 1949.
At the beginning of a new decade, 1950, Howard B. Helscher took on the presidency of the CRREB. He had been a Cedar Rapids Realtor for 22 years at that time. The 1950 Board of Directors consisted of: A.F. Swanson, John J. Bickel, C.E. Forey, F.W. Engberg, H.J. Becker, Frederick E. Niles, J.P. Grace, and Leonard Tait.
Helscher attended the 43rd annual convention of the NAREB in Miami Beach, Florida that year, along with other CRREB member John J. Wagner, George Witwer, Ms. R.W. McClaughtry, as well as the Gazette’s Naomi Doebel.
In 1951 the CRREB sponsored a “Clean-Up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up Campaign.” Held on May 6, the campaign was financed by the CRREB in an effort to transform Cedar Rapids into a “healthier, safer, and more attractive place to live.”
In 1952, Malcolm V. Bolton was made an honorary life member of the CRREB. He had been a charter member of the Board, and had worked for the development of Cedar Rapids for years.
During the fifties, the membership of the CRREB grew rapidly, and by 1957 the Board consisted of 208 members. 23 of these were women. One of these, Mrs. Robert McClaughtry, had been the executive secretary of the Board for the previous 21 years.
In 1957 the CRREB established a speakers bureau for the purpose of providing a qualified panel of speakers on various topics in the real estate field, such as trade-ins, mortgages, farms, business and commercial properties, and how to buy a new house. Civic groups or organizations could obtain a person to speak to them.
The 40th anniversary of the founding of CRREB was observed on October 18, 1957. Seven of the charter members remained active in the real estate business at this time, including Horace Hedges, Frank Buser, George Witwer, Harry Hedges, John Wagner, Floyd Knapp, and Walter Hambright. 210 members, representing 63 firms, attended this 1957 anniversary meeting. Commissioner of the Federal Home administration, Norman P. Mason, spoke at the meeting. The event was held at the Sheraton-Montrose Hotel and was open to the public.
In 1959 five CRREB members were appointed to Iowa Real Estate Association committees: Hal D. Haines, J. Thomas Hoegen, John Wagner, John Zachar, Jr., and Howard B. Helscher.
While the CRREB had been one of the pioneers in establishing a multiple-listing bureau, it also pioneered the use of photographs in the real estate business. By 1959 more than 11,000 homes had been photographed to expedite service for both buyer and seller. The CRREB had instituted this new procedure only three years earlier.
Frank Buser, past president of the CRREB, was made a life member of the Iowa Real Estate Association in 1959. He was the fourth man to receive such an award.
One of the early developments in the 1960s was the establishing of a Real Estate Secretaries Association, in December 1961. Its purpose: the betterment of professional standards, and education in the real estate business. Members were secretaries from CRREB offices, and the group was not an affiliate of the Board nor the NAREB.
Talents of CRREB members showed clearly in 1961 when eight members participated in a “double quartet” singing presentation at the Cedar Rapids Home Show at Hawkeye Downs. The members were Gene Todd, Clair Ellis, Allan Ramsey, Richard Warboy, Eldon Surface, Ernie Hidder, Larry Vavra, and Bernie Friendl.
In 1961 the CRREB observed Realtor Week with the slogan “invest in the Best.” An educational conference featured a film on what to avoid when buying or selling a house. The week’s goal was to impress upon the public that a Realtor is more than just a real estate broker.
Cedar Rapidian J. Thomas Hoegen was elected president of the Iowa Real Estate Association in 1961. The vice-president elected that year was also from Cedar Rapids: Earl R. Miller. Hoegen was a CRREB past-president.
Nineteen-sixty-two was the hundredth anniversary of the Homestead Act, which provided people with ownership of land after they had worked it for five years. The 1962 Realtor Week that year coincided with that anniversary. Hoegen, president of CRREB, criticized the federal government in 1962 with “excessive mothering,” and contrasted it to the federal government of 100 years earlier.
In January of 1962 between 250-300 Realtors gathered in Cedar Rapids for the inaugural program of the Iowa Real Estate Association. Held in the Roosevelt Hotel, the ceremony was the first one held outside of Des Moines.
Later in 1962, a committee of Cedar Rapids Realtors was appointed to work with the NAREB “Build America Better” campaign. Those members were John Wagner, Robert Gillam, Hal Haines, Earl Miller, H. Rice, A. Sieh, I.L. Tucker, John Zachar, Jr., and J. Thomas Hoegen. The NAREB committee suggested that a minimum housing code for Cedar Rapids was the most important single recommendation they could make to the city. The code involved ceiling heights and bathroom facilities.