Tuesday Morning Perspective - Des Moines Social Club and the Firehouse, Preserving Modern Architecture

Firehouse #1

The Des Moines Social Club has been working energetically and tirelessly to acquire permanent digs by purchasing and rehabilitating the incredible mid-century modern "Firehouse #1" building in downtown Des Moines. The arts group proposes to turn the building into a multi-use theater-dining-arts-retail-nonprofit-community complex.


(Look at all those happy and interesting people hanging out downtown at night! Image source: Des Moines Social Club)

Development work is proceeding at a breakneck speed. On October 22, the City Council again heard testimony on the proposed sale of the building to the Des Moines Social Club - for $600,000! The group is working through the process of nominating the structure to the National Register of Historic Places, assisted by local historian Jennifer James. I love to see significant mid-century buildings start to appear on the list and am a big fan of preserving such buildings (though not everyone thinks it is appropriate). To its credit, the Council required such action!

From the Council communication:

Developer must agree to preserve the exteriors of the two buildings and to nominate the property to the National register of Historic Places and or to the City of Des Moines Local Landmarks listing.

According to the Business Journal, Wells Fargo pledged $100,000 to assist in the Des Moines Social Club's restoration of the recently abandoned downtown "Firehouse" at 9th and Mulberry streets. The Register recently reported that The Kruidenier Charitable Foundation pledged $500,000 toward the ambitious project. These two commitments alone get the Des Moines Social Club well on its way to funding the project...

And in the bigger picture, adaptive reuse of significant buildings is sound redevelopment strategy for the City. It brings old buildings forward into the 21st century while preserving their individual stories within the larger context of development over time. It promotes investment while retaining the feeling of uniqueness and energy that draws people downtown.

And this building is particularly unique!

DSMC’s plan has implications well beyond adaptive reuse of this single historic building. With their intention to host 250 events per year at the renovated facility, it has potential to support revitalization efforts throughout the surrounding blocks, connecting the new DART station, Court Avenue, development on Walnut Street, the 10th Street corridor, and Western Gateway areas.

Recent Past Preservation Network

Speaking of Modern architecture and rehabilitation, this will be the first cross post of mine as the state representative of the Recent Past Preservation Network. RPPN is a non-profit organization that promotes preservation education and advocacy to encourage a contextual understanding of our modern built environment. RPPN is developing a national network of people and organizations to make connections and distribute information about modern architecture.

Iowa, and Des Moines in particular, actually has some strong modernist architecture scattered around. Look for more information and updates on these unique and significant buildings. If you know of any that are in danger of demolition or neglect, or that are worth highlighting here and on the RPPN website, please let me know.

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