Effort seeks $50,000 to repair beloved Cedar Rapids business

Posted at 4:04 PM, Aug 20, 2022

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Freda’s Beauty Rama and Gift Shop, a historic Black-owned business situated inside a quaint brick building in the Oakhill Jackson neighborhood, was a “second home” to Edwin Montgomery, his siblings and his friends growing up.

His mom, Freda Long, for decades owned the shop at 1028 12th Ave. SE, so it’s always been in their lives.

Many people call his mother “Mama Freda” — she was always there to give them a stylish ’do, offer advice and provide space to host cook-offs for the church. Kids would leave the Jane Boyd Community House to stop by Freda’s shop and get candy and snacks before returning to the community center to play.

“The shop was pretty much home because my mom worked around the clock, until late into the evenings,” said Montgomery, her eldest son. “ … There’s a lifetime of memories with that building and that area.”

After graduating high school, Long — one of 10 siblings — said her parents couldn’t afford to send her to nursing school. She chose to become a cosmetologist instead, but was denied admission to Cedar Rapids’ Paris Academy because of her race.

“They let me know that they do not accept Blacks or that I would have to go somewhere else in Iowa to a Black college because they don’t accept Blacks,” Long told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “I left there and went home and told my mother, and I just cried.”

She picked herself up and worked at Armstrong’s Department Store to afford to attend Crescent Beauty School in Des Moines, one of the only beauty schools in Iowa that would take Black women. When she returned to Cedar Rapids, she worked at Thelma Price’s Eighth Avenue SE beauty shop before eventually owning her own in the 1960s.

Long, now 88, was the first licensed professional in the Corridor who could cut and style hair for the Black community and has served Cedar Rapids for decades — first starting out on Ninth Street SE before relocating to the current 12th Avenue SE building.

But city Building Services staff inspections this year found concerns with pieces of the building’s brick facade falling. The city in June sent Montgomery, the property owner, a notice of violation for the exterior wall seeking to bring the shop into compliance with Cedar Rapids housing code following an inspection in February.

Now, the community is rallying to raise $50,000 through GoFundMe. Local videographer Joshua Booth launched the fundraising effort this week and has raised over $8,300 so far to help pay for repairs and get the property back in good condition to keep this piece of local Black history alive.

Long, who is mostly retired from the shop, said she doesn’t have the money to fix it up but she wants to hold onto it to give to her granddaughter, Octavia.

“I didn’t know that so many people loved me, and I feel good knowing that so many people love me and are there for me, and they did all this,” Long said of the fundraising effort.

The city is not looking to demolish the building or impose any fines, and typically is able to resolve most property issues through voluntary compliance. A notice of violation requires the owner to address the condition of the wall, city Building Services staff said.

It would be up to the property owner to determine how to mitigate the code violation. Montgomery said he was working on getting estimates from a masonry company, but he anticipates it could take about $80,000 to repair the wall.

Building Services staff found Feb. 14 that the front brick facade was falling onto the sidewalk at 1028 12th Ave. SE. A building inspection showed the facade was leaning on the east wall of the structure, which is adjacent to the sidewalk, staff said. The city closed the sidewalk to pedestrians because of the potential danger.

Currently, the property does not have a historic landmark designation, but Community Development staff said there is a possibility it could be recognized as a local landmark. The property is recognized through the city’s “History Happened Here!” historic marker program with a sign across the street from the building.

If the family applies for and receives an official designation, the property would be eligible for the city’s Historic Rehabilitation Program, which provides up to $7,500 for exterior improvements to buildings designated as local landmarks. Exterior changes to such properties require historic preservation review.

Felicite Wolfe, curator and collections manager with the African American Museum of Iowa based in Cedar Rapids, said Long is a “significant figure” because she persevered to successfully graduate from beauty school during the Jim Crow era

Crescent Beauty School was run by Pauline Humphrey, who Wolfe said saw the need to empower other Black women to pursue a career in hair.

“Freda took that empowerment and success to heart to open her own shop,” Wolfe said. “Freda’s Beauty Rama has been a landmark for the Oakhill Jackson community for decades serving the area as a business, and a community gathering space, as well as a safe haven for the children of the neighborhood.”

Long said she’s enjoyed all of her customers over the years, especially those who she knew as babies and saw grow up.

She’s played a role in inspiring generations of beauticians that came up behind her and got their start at Freda’s Beauty Rama — teaching people from Davenport, Waterloo and elsewhere around Iowa. Several have stayed and opened their own shops around Cedar Rapids.

Long said she enjoyed the decades she spent working at her namesake business, and now she wants to see her granddaughter run the shop however she desires.

“It made me feel good to know that she said she wants to be like me,” Long said. “That really made me feel good. I must have lived a decent life if she wants to be like me and she enjoys being in the beauty shop every day. … Not too many kids say they want to be like their grandma.”

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