DES MOINES — A tiny 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.
State officials want the vacant two-story building moved so they can utilize additional space for West Capitol Terrace, a park that designers envision will eventually encompass 10 acres stretching from the Capitol into the East Village district. It's just one segment of an expansive, multidecade plan to beautify the areas surrounding the Capitol.
The modest appearance of the 22-by-50-foot rectangular row house 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.
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 up the building 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 West Capitol Terrace, a broad area of walkways, terraced grassy areas, gathering spaces, benches, and trees that formerly was the site of a large state-owned concrete parking lot.
The first phase, which included removing the parking lot and constructing a central plaza, was completed in June 2007 at a cost of $2.3 million. An additional $1.6 million was approved by lawmakers for the second phase — construction of gardens and sidewalks and other improvements — which was completed in July 2008.
The third phase will include amphitheater seating at the west end, with a grand entrance from the East Village, a revitalized district with an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, bars, apartments and condos.
Moving the row house is “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.”
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.