Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Gap In The Skyline

I hate to follow (a lame attempt at) humor with a bummer, but sometimes, that's how life works.

What you're seeing is what's left of the Younkers building, a Des Moines fixture since 1899, its upper floors abandoned by a corporate downsizing (despicable euphemism) in 2002, its lower floors left empty in 2005 with the closing of its namesake department store. For years, ideas for bringing the buiding back to life were tossed around, but only recently had a developer stepped up to make an idea stick. Sadly, the building was gutted by fire on Saturday, just as the renovations seemed to be taking shape. No one was hurt, thankfully, including the brave (jeez, talk about an understatement) members of the Des Moines Fire Department who just made it out before the upper floors collapsed.

(As much as I hate to admit it, The Des Moines Register is doing a pretty good job covering this story if you want to learn more. I can't get behind their Gannett parent's crappy "new and improved" website design,though.)

If I sound like I'm taking this maybe a little too personally, I am. See that extra-charred section at the far end? That was my office, circa 2000-2002 (actually, I was in a small cube farm behind those arched windows right below the worst of the damage). It wasn't a great job, but it was my first "grown-up" job (where they actually paid me to be a writer, albeit one who only wrote ads for khakis), and more importantly, it was what brought me and my lovely wife to Des Moines -- a town that I've since adopted as my own. I didn't know it at the time (because you never know these moments as they're happening), but that move and that "meh" job in a cubicle in that old building marked a huge turning point toward who I am today.

Des Moines lost a little bit of its history this week. And I lost a little bit of mine.


Janet Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pondero said...

Hey Jason, I'm saddened by your news. The older I get, the more I enjoy history (go figure), especially stories about communities, people, and individuals. I could tell my own stories of history lost, but I'll just say your post touched me.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any experience with that building, but I do have nostalgic feelings for the grand old department stores such as Younkers. Compared to the modest main street stores in my small home town, it was breath taking to visit the big department stores in Davenport. The window displays, especially at Christmas, were impressive.

It seems like all brick and mortar retail is barely hanging on, but I do have an especially warm spot in my heart for these familiar big department stores.

Steve in Peoria