DES MOINES, Iowa — The East Village has been a part of the Des Moines community for 165 years. Today, it’s one of Iowa’s most treasured historic districts.
“The first plat maps go back to the 1850s. That’s when the streets were sort of laid out, just as the city was developing,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Communications Manager Michael Morain said.
Four blocks and 40 buildings within the East Village are now a part of the National Register of Historic Places.
“As the city built up from the riverbanks, the East Village became a natural hotspot in between the river and the state capitol which was built in the 1880s,” Morain said.
There are a couple reasons why a location or building is added to the Historic Register. Either it was architecturally historic, or it was a historic location. In the case of the East Village, it’s both.
“This neighborhood attracted Scandinavian immigrants and also a community of Eastern European Jewish community settled here along with other groups of people. But there were pockets of immigrant groups that settled here and sort of built up the neighborhood,” Morain said.
You can see the cultural influences in the architecture that evolved from the 1850s up to the 1950s.
“The church, which is now called Capitol Hill Lutheran Church, was founded by a Swedish Lutheran community who came and put down roots right here,” Morain said. “Then around the turn of the 20th century, around 1900, you see more elaborate buildings and restaurants being built as the neighborhood became a center for commerce and for business.”
Stretching into the middle of the 20th century, you start to see some of the cleaner lines of what we associate with mid-century modern design.
“Alba Restaurant is a good example of that. The curve on the corner of Alba Restaurant is a new addition, but the bones of that building were built in the early half of the 20th century,” Morain said.
Another example is an early row house that has now become Dela Viti wine bar. It was moved from what is now the West Terrace of the Iowa State Capitol.
“It’s just a neat little building that was moved several years ago because people wanted to preserve it and just preserve it as a remnant of history. But now it’s on Grand Avenue and it’s been adapted into a wine bar in a way that preserves it’s history,” Morain said.
Designation on the National Register of Historic Places is not only an honor for property owners, it also opens the door for state and federal tax credits.
“So if property owners do want to renovate their properties in a way that is historically authentic, there is funding to do that,” Morain said.
To learn more about the historic buildings in the East Village or any of the more than 2,000 historical properties in Iowa, download the free Iowa Culture app.