The Associated Press
DES MOINES — A tiny two-story red brick row house that sat nestled in the shadows of the grand Iowa Capitol for nearly 120 years will soon move a few blocks west and get new life as a restaurant.
The state wants the vacant building moved to open additional space for the West Capitol Terrace, a park that designers envision will eventually encompass 10 acres stretching from the Capitol into the East Village business district. It’s just one segment of an expansive multi-decade plan to beautify the areas surrounding the Capitol.
The 22- by 50-foot rectangular building’s modest appearance belies its historical significance. It is one of very few buildings remaining in downtown Des Moines built before 1900 and is considered to be “a well-designed and extremely rare surviving row house,” according to documents prepared for the city’s Landmark Review Board.
An early prominent business owner in Des Moines, Samuel Green, commissioned the building initially to be his family’s home. In 1949 it was bought by Norden Singers Inc., a Swedish choral and cultural group and used as a rehearsal hall and clubhouse. That history gives the building an ethnic heritage considered significant given local Swedish immigrant cultural contributions to Des Moines.
Jake Christiansen, a local developer, plans to spend about $1.2 million to move the 540,000-pound building to a city-owned parking lot in the East Village, build a large patio and set it up for use as a restaurant.
The 2½-block move is scheduled for Wednesday night at midnight. Christiansen expects the building to be ready for use by the end of the year.
“Not every building can be saved but when we have a chance it seems like it’s a worthwhile effort to save some of that history,” Christiansen said.
Moving the building opens the space for expansion of the West Terrace, a broad area of walkways, terraced grassy areas, gathering spaces, benches, and trees that was once a large state-owned concrete parking lot.
The first phase, which included removal of the parking lot and construction of a central plaza, was completed in June 2007. It cost $2.3 million. Another $1.6 million was approved by lawmakers for a second phase construction of gardens and sidewalks and other improvements, which was completed in July 2008.
A third phase will include amphitheater seating near the west end with a grand entrance from the East Village, a revitalized commercial district with an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and bars.
Moving the row house is a small piece in the larger plan.
“It’s a continuation of the plan which is the effort to return the Capitol and the Capitol complex area to its initial and original condition,” said Caleb Hunter, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services. “The Capitol is really the focal point of the area and it’s an effort to not hide your best feature. The architecture is unique and it’s a good looking building so the idea is to enhance that.”
Christiansen also supports the state’s efforts to expand the public space and green areas around the Capitol.
“It’s the closest thing to a park adjacent to the East Village. I have several investments in the East Village some of which have people living in them and the rest have people working in them. It’s a great continuation of the East Village’s rebirth. It’s our Capitol. It should show well and I think they’re well on their way to accomplishing that.”
The long-term plan for the area is to similarly reshape each side of the Capitol by removing parking lots and in some cases aging institutional-looking state buildings and installing additional pedestrian walkways surrounded by gardens.
“These gardens will serve as visual and spatial connectors between buildings to the north and south...” according to the 2010 update of the Iowa State Capitol Complex Master Plan description of the east entrance to the building. “These gardens will integrate the WWII Memorial Plaza and new trees on the East Mall. The East Gardens should be intimate in character and facilitate activities of the State.”
Continued enhancements to the area around the Capitol depend on approval of funding from the governor and the Legislature.
The Capitol Planning Commission, a group established by the Legislature to offer recommendations on future development around the building, forwarded several priorities to lawmakers last year.
They included monument and artwork repair and restoration, parking lot improvements, and the third phase of the West Capitol Terrace.
The Legislature didn’t fund any of the projects.