Des Moines leads the way in statewide historic preservation projects

DES MOINES REGISTER — Restoration of the iconic gold dome of the Iowa State Capitol, a Woodland Heights home built in 1913 and the Younkers Tea Room are among the Des Moines projects that won the state’s highest awards for historic preservation.

The State Historical Society of Iowa and the nonprofit group Preservation Iowa presented the awards last week. They recognize projects that show the best practice of historic preservation and use of state historic tax credits.

Six of the 14 awards were given to historic rehab projects in Des Moines.

Fort Des Moines

A historic military base that played key roles in the advancement of black and female soldiers was renovated into apartments last year.

Blackbird Investments and James Spiller converted four army barracks and two horse stables into 142 one- and two-bedroom apartments for low-income renters.

The $40 million project was one of the largest uses of tax credits in Iowa, using a mix of historic tax credits, low-income housing tax credits, enterprise zone tax credits and incentives from the city of Des Moines.

Fort Des Moines was home of the first African American officer training program in 1917 and the nation’s first Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II.

It won in the sustainability in preservation category.

Wilkins Building

The Wilkins Building, which was once part of the iconic Younkers department store in downtown Des Moines, was converted into 60 apartments and 20,000-square-feet of commercial space.

Built in 1909, the department store was the first reinforced concrete building in Des Moines. It survived the 2014 fire that ravaged the eastern half of the Younkers building.

Blackbird Investments completed the rehab in fall 2017. It included the restoration of the Younkers Tea Room, the iconic restaurant once known for its rarebit burgers, chicken salad and cinnamon rolls. The Tea Room is now an event venue for groups of up to 430 people.

“The reinvigorated Wilkins Building now serves as a vital landmark for downtown Des Moines,” the State Historical Society of Iowa said in a news release.

The Wilkins Building won in the large commercial category.