historic

Intended to facilitate easy movement of people from suburban homes to downtown jobs, Interstate 235 carved its way through several historic and well-established neighborhoods. This mass demolition and construction project is a scar that never healed - consuming land and dividing the city while encouraging disinvestment rather than concentrating resources. In retrospect, it would have been a much better path to invest in updated mass transit.

Below is a journal of the progression starting in 1950 through today.

Interstate 235 Path - 1950: Aerial photo of the neighborhoods through which Interstate 235 will carve a destructive path.Interstate 235 Path - 1950: Aerial photo of the neighborhoods through which Interstate 235 will carve a destructive path.

Interstate 235 Path - 1960: The Interstate 235 construction makes its way to 19th Street (now the Martin Luther King) exitInterstate 235 Path - 1960: The Interstate 235 construction makes its way to Cottage Grove exit (now the MLK exit)

Interstate 235 Path - 1970: Interstate 235 now fully divides formerly historic neighborhoodsInterstate 235 Path - 1970: Interstate 235 now fully divides formerly historic neighborhoods

Interstate 235 Path - Current Day: Interstate 235 exits have been reworked and additional pedestrian bridges attempt to connect across the divide, but the scar cannot be healedInterstate 235 Path - Current Day: Interstate 235 exits have been reworked and additional pedestrian bridges attempt to connect across the divide, but the scar cannot be healed

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I had a fantastic and far ranging conversation with a fellow design professional this afternoon, sparked by the demolition of six historic homes on 31st Street just a couple days ago. One of the things we talked about was a disconnect between preservation professionals and developers who want to work in urban neighborhoods (specifically older established neighborhoods).

Sometimes despite a general desire to "do the right thing," they end up on the wrong side of the argument. Having worked on all phases of the development process (from land assembly, planning, and zoning to design, financing, and construction), I can identify with the need to be selective about sharing information publicly until the project is ready. Most developers working in older urban areas, however, tend to take this too far - holding their cards too close to their vest will breed distrust and antipathy from concerned neighbors and organizations. It sets up a needless climate of conflict.

Here is a brief overview of how to include preservation in the development planning process: Engage, Evaluate, Execute.

Historic Preservation Planning for Developers - Engage, Evaluate, ExecuteHistoric Preservation Planning for Developers - Engage, Evaluate, Execute

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In 1950, Hud and Ellen Weeks purchased land from Hud’s parents to build a home for their growing family. An otherwise unremarkable story might have ended there but for two things: Hud was the son of Des Moines makeup magnate Carl Weeks, and the parcel they purchased was carved from the Salisbury House grounds, Hud and Ellen Weeks Home - Double Lustron KitchenHud and Ellen Weeks Home - Double Lustron Kitchennow a national landmark and museum. On this historic site, Hud and Ellen commissioned a unique modern dwelling comprised of two “Lustron” ready-to-assemble steel home kits built around a central atrium. Only about 2,000 Lustrons remain in the world today. The double Lustron home was significant architecturally due to its distinctive design and historically because of its association with an influential Des Moines family.

On a chilly February morning in 2013, Salisbury House staff arrived to find massive machines tearing into the enameled steel-cladding of Hud and Ellen Weeks’ former home. A developer had purchased the lot and proceeded with demolition. Historians had no chance to document or reclaim any portion of the structure for study or reuse. This story is playing out today with the demolition of three century-old buildings for expansion of the EMC Insurance Companies in downtown Des Moines.

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Last week I helped present a forum on historic preservation. Titled "Pragmatic Preservation," the underlying goal was to help promote a climate where developers and preservationists could find common ground. The panel included people with practical experience on both sides. Issues and current events were debated in a civil and, well, pragmatic discussion. I walked away from the event with practical ideas and the general feeling that perhaps there was a way to negotiate an honest if uneasy truce.

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In response to last week's Perspective, a reader posted the following comment:

As you may or may not know, CVS is planning a new box store to replace the buildings on the northwest corner and when I pushed to have it built on the corner with the parking lot behind it, they balked.

CVS has been working for some time to assemble land and push through the zoning and permitting process for constructing a new store (the first CVS in Des Moines) on Euclid between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Christmas DecorationsChristmas. The Thanksgiving Turkey is still cooling in the refrigerator. Family and visitors have returned to their planet of origin. We have officially entered the Christmas Season.

Let's start out with a greeting to my friends who celebrate this holiday: Merry Christmas. As a person who does not celebrate Christmas, I am not offended in the least by similar greetings issued to me. I suppose at the very least, one can revel in the spirit of the sentiment.

I also enjoy the light displays that explode on people's lawns. Not the ones where an inflatable army invades and camps out for two months. No, I like the ones where people put thought into using light and greenery to tastefully accent landscaping and historic architecture. (Call my friends at Loki's Garden for a holiday lighting consult if you think you might not be able to pull it off on your own).

Indeed, personal expression helps to liven up urban areas - if you want to experience some unique and beautiful displays, take a drive not through the ridiculously heavy-handed Water Works park, but rather through the Beaverdale, South of Grand, Sherman Hill and Terrace Hill neighborhoods. And neighborhood light tours are FREE.

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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.

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Kudos to the City Council

...for upholding the Historic Preservation Commission in a dispute with heavy hitters James and Roxanne Conlin over installation of vinyl windows in a building they own that is located in a local historic district. Rumor has it they may take the issue to court. Such a waste of time and money would be a shame. I suggest they put the money they might spend on attorneys and court costs into renovating their building and complying with the local historic district ordinance.

Staff in the planning department deserve a lot of credit as well. They wrote a staff response to the Conlin appeal, and it is a great read for all preservationists and city government nerds.

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Conlin Properties

24 Sep 2012

826 18th Street - Conlin Properties: From the Assessor's website826 18th Street - James and Roxanne Conlin: From the Assessor's websiteIn a few minutes, James Conlin (yes, related to Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin) will ask [pdf] the Des Moines City Council to overturn a decision made by the Historic Preservation Commission relating to one of their properties in the Sherman Hill local historic district.

The property is located at 826 18th Street. The local historic district has been in existence since before the Conlins purchased the property in 1989. They want to install vinyl windows in conflict with the Historic Preservation Commission's interpretation of the established local historic district guidelines.

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The Filling Station

Listed in the 2008 Des Moines Rehabbers Club "Most Endangered" list, the former Don's Service Station structure has been sitting on cribs in the Kathedral parking lot for four years... The Sherman Hill website now reports that it is finally scheduled to be moved to its permanent home at 18th and Crocker. For more information about the planned conversion to a teen hangout and worship center, visit the "Filling Station" website.

Downtown Development Plans...

KCCI reports that Hubbell Realty Company has initiated the public process for development incentives and zoning approvals for "Cityville", a 288-unit mixed-use complex to be built just south of downtown. Unfortunately, the available news reports were unclear which incentives are being pursued, with various references to tax abatement, loans, tax credits, grants, and tax increment financing. Surely Hubbell will negotiate with the city economic development department to hammer out the specifics - citizens need to be vigilant to ensure that we are getting a good deal.

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