Des Moines’ East Village Gets Historic District Designation

Last month, the East Des Moines Commercial Historic District has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The official historic district, within the broader East Village, was originally platted in 1854, and its period of historic significance is tied to its ethnic heritage, social history and architecture from 1873 through 1959.

Many of the district’s historic buildings are associated with European immigrants, including Scandinavian and Eastern European Jewish immigrant communities that settled on the near east side beginning in the 1870s and 1880s and became merchants, tradespeople and professionals.

The nomination describes three different generations of building construction that took place in the district from the 1840s until 1959, including:

  • First-generation buildings (1840s-1890s) were framed with wood and included single family homes, double-houses and row houses, some of which have been remodeled or replaced by commercial buildings. The Swedish Mission building at 509-511 E. 5th St. is one example.
  • Second-generation buildings (1870s-1920s) were built almost exclusively of brick in a variety of styles popular at the time, including Italianate, Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, Classical and Commercial styles. These brick storefronts with ground-floor retail/service had second-floor living spaces and were owned or leased by merchants and service professionals, including many of Scandinavian or Jewish heritage. The district contains several rare surviving buildings from this time period, such as:
    The 1894 Samuel Green Rowhouse at 425 E. Grand Ave., the only known surviving row house on the east side of Des Moines. It was moved within the district in 2013 and represents the once-common row house that provided multi-family housing near Capitol Hill. It now houses a wine bar called Della Viti.
    The landmark First Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, now called Capitol Hill Lutheran Church, at 511 Des Moines St. remains on its original site and in operation since 1886. This is a rare surviving religious institution in an area that was wiped clean of most residential housing between 1910s and 1960s due to City Beautiful riverfront cleanup, mid-century urban renewal, freeway construction and government expansion.
  • Third-generation buildings (1920s-1950s) generally reflect continued influences of the automobile on both design and use. This era saw many properties redeveloped or remodeled as part of the East Des Moines Auto Row, including Orville Lowe’s Ford auto showroom and service center on the site of two former houses at 524 E. 6th St., which is now occupied by several businesses, including Alba Restaurant. Its minimal design and concrete masonry block construction in 1946 was an expression of post-war Modernism. Many existing older buildings were modernized via “facelifts,” reflecting the continual need for merchants and manufacturers to modernize and adapt to new technologies.

Learn more about this exciting news for Des Moines on the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs’ website.