The Hall Family
Margaret and Howard Hall, the last residents of the Brucemore Mansion, brought a modern sense of style and a whimsical spirit to the estate.
A pet lion, the Tahitian Room, and the Grizzly Bar cemented their place in Cedar Rapids folklore.
Their philanthropic nature and influence on the industrial development of the community is still evident today.
Margaret Douglas was the eldest daughter of George and Irene Douglas. She moved with her family to the estate when she was ten years old and grew up on its expansive grounds. She was a kind and gracious woman who displayed a flair for art.
Howard was born in Onslow, Iowa, in 1894. His family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1909 where he began working in banking, first as a delivery boy for Commercial National Bank and later as a teller for Cedar Rapids State Bank.
He served in the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I, and then returned to Cedar Rapids to launch his manufacturing career. Howard was the co-founder and president of two major employers in the region, Iowa Steel and Iron Works, and Iowa Manufacturing. An ambitious but fun-loving businessman, Howard quickly established himself as a rising star in the city.
Margaret and Howard met in the fall of 1923 at a dinner party. They formed an immediate connection and were married the following summer. According to long-time employee Bea Eberhart, "Margaret and Howard were devoted to each other.... and she was a gracious hostess; they had lots of parties - he did a lot of business entertaining. Margaret was very good at that; she could put anybody at ease. Both the Halls were very easy to be with."
Though they never had children, their legacy is evident throughout the region. Their philanthropic leadership can be found in examples like: Mercy Medical Center's Radiation Center; the many grants the Hall-Perrine Foundation makes each year; and Brucemore, which Margaret left to the National Trust at her death in 1981.
In her bequest to the National Trust, Margaret affirmed that Brucemore was to be a community cultural center, not a shrine to her family. This gift of their home continues to enrich the community today.
Howard Hall's businesses
Howard Hall moved to Cedar Rapids when he was 24 to work for Commercial National Bank. Only one year later, Howard began developing a manufacturing career that would bring industry and world-wide recognition to Cedar Rapids.
In 1919, Howard and his friend and business partner John Jay purchased a controlling interest in the Carmody Foundry. They renamed the company Iowa Steel and Iron Works with Howard as president.
Three years later, John suggested that they purchase several buildings on Sixteenth Street NE. They incorporated the former Bertschey Engineering Company as Iowa Manufacturing Company in 1923.
Howard and John knew that road modernization was in high demand and their business decision to manufacture paving equipment proved a sound investment.
The Good Roads Movement was a nationwide campaign calling for the construction of paved roads. Started by bicycle enthusiasts, the movement increased in popularity with the development of motorcars and the close of World War I. Paved roads made automobile travel safer, easier, and more economical.
Howard and Jay grasped the manufacturing opportunity for rock crushers and pavers, an integral part of road construction. In 1923, they hired W. Guy Frazee. Guy's previous study of manufacturing crushing equipment aided in his development of the One-Piece-Outfit.
Early road construction equipment was clumsy, hard to transport, and costly. Multiple machines ground aggregate, a basic road construction material consisting of crushed gravel, stone, and sand.
The One-Piece-Outfit consolidated all stone processing into one machine making it more efficient and alleviating much of the work required to process aggregate at road construction sites. Rock crusher manufacturing also provided a new outlet for Iowa Steel and Iron Works, which made iron casting and truck frames for the crushers.
John was the company's first president; Howard served as president from 1929 until his death in 1971. Howard steered Iowa Manufacturing through three of the greatest national events of the twentieth century during his tenure as the company's president.
Local efforts, global impact
Iowa Manufacturing was still in its infancy when the nation entered the Great Depression. The Government established work programs, which included extensive infrastructure development like road construction projects. Howard kept Iowa Manufacturing operating with projects from both the Works Progress Administration and the Iowa Good Roads Movement.
World War II spurred industrial growth for the United States and for Iowa Manufacturing, which sent its rock crushers overseas to assist the Allied forces in building roads. Howard needed extra hands working long hours to meet these new demands and the number of employees grew significantly.
Employees contributed to the war effort and the increased demand by foregoing vacation time and working on weekends. In April of 1944, Iowa Manufacturing was recognized for their extraordinary contributions and efforts and presented with the Army-Navy Production ("E") Award.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower established a national highway system after the close of World War II and the Korean War. Iowa Manufacturing actively supported the bill, conscious of the opportunities which would stem from a national highway system. President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956 and machinery bearing the Iowa Manufacturing name could be found on construction sites across the country.
A lasting legacy
Howard remained committed to the community where he had his greatest business success by using his influence to help Cedar Rapids grow and develop. Howard hosted a "Sunday School" at Brucemore comprised of local business and government leaders for discussions about local development and national economics. Jobs created by Howard's companies provided jobs to Cedar Rapids residents and kept the local economy vibrant.
Howard passed away in 1971 and his brother-in-law Beahl Perrine became interim president of Iowa Manufacturing. Howard created a positive business relationship with Raytheon during World War II by facilitating Raytheon's purchase of Amana Refrigeration, and Raytheon purchased Iowa Manufacturing in 1972.
In 1985, Iowa Manufacturing changed its name to Cedarapids, Inc. in an effort to unify the company with the name of its product line, "Cedarapids." Terex, Inc. purchased the company 14 years later.
In late 2009, Terex, Inc. announced the Cedar Rapids plant would end product manufacturing in 2010, bringing a close to the story of a greatly influential Cedar Rapids company.
The Halls' film library
From the late 1920s through the 1960s, Howard and Margaret Hall produced more than 23,000 feet of home movie footage. Personal motion picture technology blossomed in the early twentieth century and the Halls took advantage of it.
While they documented typical scenes of vacations, family, and friends, their collection also includes remarkable images that illustrate their colorful lives:
- A 1928 parade at Brucemore for presidential candidate Herbert Hoover
- A 1939 Iowa football practice with Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick
- Howard wrestling with his pet lion
- Stunning, behind-the-scenes images from the set of Gone with the Wind
The films provide a fascinating look at the incomparable world of Margaret and Howard.
Leo the Lion and other pets
Brucemore has always been home to a range of animals. Originally built as a Carriage House and barn, the Visitor Center was home to several horses, a cow, and a Shetland pony named Neddie who pulled a cart for the Douglas girls.
Dogs also had a prominent role in the Douglas and Hall homes. While the Douglas family generally had a pet dog, the Halls' German Shepherds are the most memorable examples. Howard admired loyalty and bravery in people - traits he also sought in his dogs. Brucemore was usually inhabited by at least two German Shepherds. Their residence on the estate is memorialized in the Pet Cemetery and the dog statues on the grounds.
Employees at Howard's company fondly remember him arriving at work in his "dog car" and the presence of the dogs sleeping under his desk during the day.
Perhaps the most famous Brucemore resident was Howard and Margaret Hall's pet lion, Leo....
Howard's business took him to California where he developed numerous contacts in Hollywood. At some point, Howard made the acquaintance of Billy Richards, the vice-president of World Jungle Compound, a business promoted as the "Home of the Motion-Picture Animal Actors" and which handled "Jackie" the famous MGM lion.
In 1936, nearly a year before the Halls moved into the Mansion, they purchased the first of three lions they named Leo.
The first Leo did not live long, although the reason for his death has not been determined. He was related to Jackie, the MGM lion.
The second Leo joined the Halls in 1937 and lived for 13 years until 1951. This is the lion that appears in many family photos and home movies and is the only one buried in the Pet Cemetery.
The third Leo lived at Brucemore during a few months in 1951. While no lions lived on the estate after 1953, Howard helped acquire a lion for the Bever Park Zoo in the 1960s.
Animal stories from the archives
Stories of the Halls' exotic pets still fascinate people a generation after their deaths. Letters, like the ones following, provide documentation for these stories.
From Howard to Margaret, dated Friday p.m. September 3, 1937:
George drove me out to the zoo today and I met Mr. Richards who I bought our first cub from- he was extremely nice - they have a very interesting place. Mr. Richards introduced me to the trainer Melvin Koontz who gave me the thrill of my life - first he let Leo's brother out, now 15 months and nearly full grown big as a house, he played like a kitten and climbed all over me and licked my face. put his paws on my shoulders - it made me sick to think what Leo might have been. - he is a sweetheart. and then he took me in the cage alone with "Jackie" the famous movie lion now 10 years old - 450 lbs. just huge - Melvin raised him from a cub - he had him stand on his back legs and put his paws on my shoulder - the first time he pushed me over he was so heavy. The next time I held him - the greatest thrill I ever had - then I got on his back and rode him. Made him carry my bag Etc. - Melvin then left with him in a cage for a movie studio where he had a small part in Lily Pons picture with Edward Everett Horton and Jack Okie. I never hope to have such a big moment again.... Will be glad to get home and see you and the zoo. — Love Howard
From Howard to Margaret, dated Thursday p.m. (probably 1937):
Little Leo (the lion) arrived this morning and we all had a good laugh here at the factory. He had been penned up in a little cage and was quite a smelly mess but I set him in a pail of water and gave him a quick bath and then took him down and gave him a real bath at Eastman's place and now he is very clean and his fur is like velvet. He is about the size of Bodo (a dog) and has the cutest head and feet of anything you have ever seen. Blance is just crazy about him and can't wait to have you see him. When I had him on my lap at home Max ( the Halls' German Shepard) came up from the basement and I introduced them and Leo put his ears back and showed his teeth and Max's hair raised up a little and then I asked Max to come over and kiss him and everything is all right, and they both seemd [sic] to understand everything perfectly and I know we will have lots of fun watching them together.
From Howard to Margaret, dated Monday (ca. 1937):
Leo is the funniest and cutest thing I have ever seen -- he sleeps in the front room in the basement -- Blance gives him a little milk in the morning and puts him out on the front porch. -- Then I let him out with Max (a German Shepard) at noon and they have a big time in the yard -- he chases Max and is a scream -- took them both over to Mother last night and they spent the evening on the front porch. Everyone are [sic] crazy about him. -- Pepper (the Halls' pet monkey) is fine too. I let him out in our room a lot.