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Wilkins Building Redevelopment

This renovation and adaptive reuse project breathes life into one of two buildings that formed a historic, block-long department store. The project adds basement parking, adapts four floors to apartments, and restores the sixth floor Tea Room.

The original, conjoined buildings were listed on the National Register in 2010 and gutted by fire in 2014. The surviving building’s reinforced concrete structure, cutting edge in 1908, enabled its rescue. Non-structural trauma included cracking, spalling, soot deposition, and water damage.

The east facade had been removed in 1924 when an infill structure consolidated the two adjacent buildings. Now, a new version conforms to the restored façades but employs more austere, modern detailing to differentiate it without distracting. 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.

The north, south, and west facades return to their original configuration, with replaced or refurbished windows, canopies, balconies, and cast iron elements. Inside, historic entries conceal fire-rated barriers and code-compliant elevators on each floor. The mechanical system provides upgrades with respectful discretion and preserves the interior’s original tall volumes wherever possible.

The 2014 fire riddled the Tea Room, a defining feature added in 1926, with heat, smoke, and water damage. Though some ornamental wall plaster could be salvaged, most of the ceiling required replication. The renovation restores this room meticulously, thanks to surviving plasterwork molds and archival photographs recording the society events it hosted over the years.

Project Type: Mixed-Use

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Size: 133,592 SF (renovated)

Completed: 2017

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