The Wilkins Building renovation breathes life into one of two buildings that formed a historic block-long department store in downtown Des Moines. The conjoined buildings were listed on the National Register in 2010….and gutted by fire in 2014. The Wilkins Building’s reinforced concrete structure, cutting edge in 1908, enabled its rescue. Non-structural trauma included cracking, spalling, soot deposition, and water damage. The building’s restoration and adaptive reuse adds parking to the basement, maintains ground floor retail, restores the sixth floor Tea Room and balconies, and adapts four floors to rented apartments.
The sixth floor Tea Room, a defining feature added in 1926, survived riddled with fire, smoke, and water damage. Some ornamental plaster on the walls could be salvaged but most of the ceiling’s design required replication. The renovation restores this room meticulously, thanks to molds of surviving plasterwork and archival photographs recording the society events it hosted over the years.
On each floor, historic elevator fronts conceal fire-rated barriers and code-compliant elevators. The mechanical system provides essential climate control upgrades with a similarly light touch. Drop ceilings conceal services only where necessary, preserving the interior’s original tall volumes. Minimal ductwork, where exposed, matches the ceiling color.
The exterior restores the north, south, and west elevations by returning windows to a Chicago-style, double-hung configuration; replacing the historic canopies and balconies; and refurbishing cast iron windows and entries. The east facade had been removed in 1924 when an infill structure consolidated the two adjacent buildings. Exposed by the fire, the east elevation now conforms to the adjoining restored façades but employs slightly more austere, modern detailing to differentiate it from the historic facades without distracting from them. Lined with mill-finish aluminum trim, the wall comprises acid-etched precast concrete panels that range from light gray at ground level to dark gray above.
Des Moines, Iowa