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Gathering places for the community, centers of entertainment, family homes that have housed important members of the community… these places matter. And some of them are in danger.
Members of the public were asked to nominate buildings that they felt are important to the community and are threatened with demolition or neglect. The purpose of this list is to channel resources and awareness toward those buildings and promote revitalization of older buildings. Losing these buildings to demolition or neglect would be a huge loss to local neighborhoods and to the city as a whole.
Nominations were accepted for about a month and a committee of Rehabbers Club members made the final decision on which buildings would make the list. Members of the Des Moines Historical Society helped dig up some historical research on the buildings.
The following have been selected as the Most Endangered Buildings in Des Moines for 2015 (in no particular order:)
THE GASLAMP/BUTLER APARTMENTS
ADDRESS: 1501 Grand Ave.
YEAR BUILT: 1906
FEATURES: This Renaissance/Georgian style mixed-use commercial and residential building is in generally good condition. It is still in use as apartments and a music venue.
WHY IT’S ENDANGERED:
The current owner has assembled a large area of continuous parcels on the block, including this historic building. Questions regarding future plans have been answered with vague responses about not having immediate plans for any changes. There are no immediate plans for changes to the existing building and normal operations will continue,” Kum & Go Vice President of marketing and communication Megan Elfers said in an email to The Register. However, as construction proceeds on the new Kum & Go headquarters nearby, the company has been vague about plans for the structure.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO SAVE:
In 1999, the State Historic Preservation Office evaluated this building as potentially eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C as a good example of early 20th century residential/commercial design. It was also included in a 1976 survey of historic structures in Des Moines. Since the music venue and restaurant opened it has become a thriving addition to local nightlife in the Western Gateway area. The historic character of the building helps anchor one corner of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and reflects the historic brick buildings present on the south side of Locust, across the Park.
ADDRESS: 3711 Ingersoll Ave.
YEAR BUILT: 1939
FEATURES: Streamlined Moderne theater architecture. Example of Depression-era theaters designed for sound movies (rather than older theaters that hosted the vaudeville circuit) and automobile-driving patrons. Original, metal, art deco theater marquee. Glazed ceramic brick and tile and exterior ticket window and two poster frames adorn the front. It shares a lot with the Greenwood Lounge, Manhattan Deli, and several other businesses, which contribute to its history as well.
WHY IT’S ENDANGERED: After the Ingersoll Dinner Theater closed in 1989, the building was empty for a time and then housed a number of entertainment businesses that attracted crime and eventually failed. It has been vacant for several years and is in danger of neglect and vandalism. City staff have been working for several years to push the owners to make exterior improvements to the building.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO SAVE:
The Ingersoll Theatre, built for A.H. Blank’s Tri-States Corp. is the best extant rare-surviving interwar movie theater. Designed by Des Moines-based Wetherell and Harrison, it is noted for its theater architecture and ongoing relationship with A.H. Blank’s theater businesses, which developed Depression-era theaters designed for sound movies (rather than older theaters that hosted the vaudeville circuit) and automobile-driving patrons. In addition, the theater is a very good extant example of the mid-1930s Streamlined Moderne theater architecture. This building retains sufficient integrity to contribute to a commercial historic district. The rare-surviving status of the building elevates its significance. (Iowa Site Inventory Form, prepared by Jennifer James, Aug. 2015)
NORTH DES MOINES CITY HALL
ADDRESS: 1601 6th Ave.
YEAR BUILT: 1888
FEATURES: Victorian commercial architectural styling with two-story, rectangular configuration and hood molds over the windows. It was surveyed in 1994 as part of the “Towards a Greater Des Moines” reconnaissance survey of Des Moines’ Victorian suburbs.
WHY IT’S ENDANGERED: It has sat vacant and at risk of deterioration and vandalism for several years. It does not seem the current owner has any plans for restoring the building. As property values along 6th Ave. increase as revitalization occurs, the property may be at risk of demolition in favor of new commercial development.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO SAVE:
“Constructed between 1888 and 1889 as a commercial building and public hall, the Perry and Brainard Block calls direct attention to the Annexation Movement in Des Moines and its Victorian suburbs. This movement to expand Des Moines corporate limits was probably the most significant local government issue during the late nineteenth century. It is the only known public building surviving from this critical period. As the town hall for the independent community of North Des Moines, the second floor hosted numerous public meetings at which annexation and school consolidation were extensively debated during 1889 and 1890. The building became a common meeting place for public celebration. During this period, John MacVicar as mayor of North Des Moines presided over many of these public meetings. The fact that his house in North Des Moines is nonextant increases the historical significance of this building.” (National Register of Historic Places Site Inventory Form, prepared by Will Page, 1995.)
The building is now part of the 6th Avenue Corridor revitalization and would contribute a great deal to the community by being restored as a public meeting space and location for local history to be celebrated.
VICTORIAN HOUSE IN RIVER BEND
ADDRESS: 1720 7th St.
YEAR BUILT: 1892
FEATURES: 2.5 story house with an octagonal canted bay, an attic balcony, and a complex roof design. It is architecturally significant as an example of Queen Anne style houses in Des Moines. It closely resembles its sister at 1730 7th St., identical in many respects, in ground plan. This strong resemblance suggests attribution to the same architect or contractor-builder, although the name has not yet been identified. The design at 1720 is a bit more complex, however, including the canted bay windows with octagonal shape rather than rectangular, and the inclusion of an attic balcony.
WHY IT’S ENDANGERED: The house has suffered serious neglect over the past 15 years. It remains vacant and a hole in the roof is allowing continued water damage to the interior of the house. Its sister property at 1730 suffered severe water damage at one time too and the process undertaken to restore that house could serve as an example for how to address the water damage in this house. The cover-up siding masks wood cladding, which may add to its historic value as an architectural example. The canted bay window may have had a peaked roof at one time. (National Register of Historic Places Site Inventory Form, prepared by Will Page, 1992)
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO SAVE:
This house is eligible for nomination to the National Register as a rare surviving example of an important architectural subtype of Des Moines early suburban architecture. As other houses of similar age on the same block have been restored, this house stands out as what could be a beautiful home connecting the restoration all along the block. It would elevate the quality of the surrounding block substantially if this house were cared for.
PAIR OF MATCHED QUEEN ANNE VICTORIAN COTTAGES
ADDRESS: 845 & 847 17th St.
YEAR BUILT: 1890s
FEATURES: 1.5 story Queen Anne Victorian cottages
WHY THEY’RE ENDANGERED: These houses have deteriorated drastically over the last ten years. A neglectful owner has failed to make repairs to the exterior, including damage to the roof, peeling paint, and damaged front porches.
WHY THEY’RE IMPORTANT TO SAVE:
These two houses are listed as contributing buildings to the Sherman Hill National Historic District. “A number of houses in Sherman Hill reflect the same (or nearly the same) plan. Repeated designs facilitated speedy construction and are significant in Sherman Hill because they call attention to the neighborhood’s booming growth in the late 19th century.” (National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, prepared by Will Page, 1989)
HOME OF VOLTAIR TWOMBLY
** It appears there’s a new family living in this house doing lots of work to fix it up. We’re so glad someone has seen the value in this house and will work to save it! Let’s highlight the important historical connection this house has and see if there’s a good way to commemorate the famous Iowan who lived here. **
ADDRESS: 1628 E. 8th St.
YEAR BUILT: 1910
FEATURES: Craftsman Bungalow with Victorian first floor interior layout. Upper level was destroyed by fire in the 1930s and re-built with an open floor plan and dormer windows.
WHY IT’S ENDANGERED: This building suffered a slumlord owner through the 80s and 90s and has been sitting abandoned after a failed contract sale in the 2010s. It needs some major renovation work, structurally and aesthetically. The kitchen was gutted by a previous owner, revealing water damage from a leaky sink. The upstairs may have been an apartment at one time. Remnants of a former kitchen still exist on the second floor over the kitchen. Two full baths need major renovation. The foundation of the building is badly slanted and the house needs to be jacked up and leveled with a new foundation built underneath.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO SAVE: This home was built by Voltaire Payne Twombly, a Civil War hero and recipient of the Medal of Honor. Twombly would go on to found Hawkeye Bank in Des Moines and serve as the State Treasurer for many years. Twombly comes from a notable family. His father was a utopian community builder who started a village in southeast Iowa according to Enlightenment principles. Census records and local history resources show that the Twombly family owned the building until the granddaughter of Voltaire Twombly sold it in the 1960s or 70s. The home could be a very comfortable place for a family, with space for four bedrooms, two full baths, and a garage.
Photo by Mary Willie
OLD UNION DEPOT
ADDRESS: 120 E. Fifth St.
FEATURES: The 1,682-square-foot, rectangular building, designed with Dutch architectural influences, is brick with a gabled roof.
WHY IT’S ENDANGERED: The integrity of the building has not been maintained; it is boarded up. It has suffered a fire and continued neglect could destroy it.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO SAVE: The building was constructed as a railway depot. After a period of time – anywhere from four to 20 years, according to local sources – the building was converted into a storage facility. The Polk County assessor’s office says the building was converted to a “cooler” sometime in the 1950s. It’s a structure of uncommon quality that deserves a second chance. It is one of two known passenger depots still standing in Des Moines and the only one on the east side. The other was renovated and now is home to the Hessen Haus restaurant at 101 Fourth St. With the burgeoning development of the southern part of the Historic East Village, this building could be re-purposed as a restaurant, retail shop, or even a visitor center.
We’re Here To Help
The mission of the Des Moines Rehabbers Club is to promote neighborhood revitalization and restoration of Des Moines’ unique building stock by informing, educating, inspiring, and supporting each other in all phases of renovation and maintenance. Some of the ways we can help include identifying funding sources for repairs, connecting you with contractors and experts who respect older buildings and can help plan the renovation process with you, and offering a connection to those who value your building as a vital part of their community.
Breathing New Life Into Old Buildings
Buildings that have been listed on our Most Endangered List in the past include the Kingsway Kathedral, the Whittier School, and Don’s Service Station. All of these buildings have found a new lease on life because neighbors in the community joined together to find the right solutions. We hope we can help your building be a success story in the future as well.