Once upon a time

By Cady Colosimo and Jeff Pitts

A look back at what some eateries’ buildings used to be

If you’re going out to eat in downtown Des Moines, it’s more than likely the building you’re dining in was not always a restaurant. Several historic buildings — many of them more than 100 years old — occupy the heart of the city and have stories of their own. While the edifices may have maintained their architecture, the insides sport new looks. Read on to get the backstory of a handful of the city’s many establishments.


The Legends American Grill at 216 Court Ave. was once the O.B. West Company, a major produce distributor in the
1920s and ’30s. Photo courtesy of Des Moines Public Library Special Collections.

Some of the legendary fare at Legends American Grill include appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, burgers, wraps and seafood. The steaks are 100 percent Midwest black angus beef that is raised without hormones or antibiotics, aged, hand-cut and served to please. The local chain offers a sports theme to go with its casual dining and has been serving central Iowa since 1995, but the downtown location used to house something much different.

Legend has it that the building located at the corner of Third and Court avenues used to house the O.B. West Company, a major produce distributor in the 1920s and ’30s. Afterward, according to the National Register of Historic Places, the building was owned by Plumb Supply Company, Ben’s Furniture Warehouse and Nacho

Legends American Grill is located at 216 Court Ave. in Des Moines. For more information, visit  www.legendsamericangrill.com or call 515-243-0700.

West End Architectural Salvage, located at 22 Ninth St., was formerly home to Sears Roebuck and Company. Photo taken on
Aug. 16, 2017.

West End Salvage is nestled within a cavernous four-story building at the corner of Ninth Street and Cherry. The antique dealer offers unique items that have been salvaged from across the globe.

Written on the north side of the building are the letters
“BUCK AND COMPANY EQUIPMENT,” followed by the words “wire fencing” in smaller lettering. But it’s likely some white, which is also on the building to the left of the sign, conceals that this was Sears Roebuck and Company. In The Des Moines Register, on Sunday, Nov. 11, 1945, an ad is printed with for Sears Roebuck and Company with the location listed as Ninth and Cherry in Des Moines. The Polk County Assessor’s website says the building was constructed in 1906. The east side of the building also has markings that indicate it was a grocery warehouse at some point.

Today, you can pick up a gourmet beverage at West End Salvage; the menu includes hot coffee, latte, steamers and
other caffeinated beverages.

West End Architecture and Salvage is located at 22 Ninth St. in Des Moines. Call 515-243-4405 or visit www.
westendsalvage.com for a list of offerings and other details.

Americana celebrates its former tenant — Des Moines Buick Auto Company and Manbeck Motor Sales
Company at 1312 Locust St. — with artwork of classic cars. Photos taken Aug. 14, 2017.

The Western Gateway restaurant, Americana Restaurant and Lounge, serves American classics like bacon-wrapped meatloaf, loaded mac and cheese, steaks, burgers, salads, chicken sandwiches and short rib pot pies.

But did you know the building used to house an establishment that sold a different kind of American classic? Long before it was the Americana that metro foodies have come to know and love, it was Des Moines Buick Auto
Company and Manbeck Motor Sales Company.

The eatery has decorated its establishment with hints of what it once was, as artwork of classic cars decorates the walls, giving diners a taste of yesteryear.

Start your engines. Americana Restaurant and Lounge is located at 1312
Locust St. in Des Moines. For more information, visit http://www.americanadsm.com or call 515-283-1312.


Fong’s marquee sign is a relic of the 223 Fourth St. former
occupant King Ying Low. Photo courtesy of King Ying Low.

Are you really a Des Moinesian if you haven’t had the crab Rangoon pizza at Fong’s? Open less than a decade, Fong’s Pizza — owned by Full Court Press Inc. — quickly became a Des Moines favorite and landmark dining destination. Managing partner Gwen Page estimates the downtown location sells about 1,600 pizzas a week, with roughly 600 of those pizzas being the famed crab Rangoon.

Before all the notoriety and Food Network love, the spot on historic Fourth Street was King Ying Low — formerly Des Moines’ oldest Chinese establishment. Page says they had been in business since 1907 and opened their Fourth Street location in 1949, then closed in March 2008 after a kitchen fire. The spirit of the former restaurant lives on in both the theme and architecture. The Chinese meets tiki bar theme is an ode to the prior occupant, and as such the interior and exterior remains similar, like the green booths and iconic marquee sign. The restaurant also plays on its
Chinese roots with Chinese-inspired art. While the large bar on the left side of Fong’s is new and was put in when Full Court Press took over; much of this space celebrates and maintains its heritage.

Fong’s Pizza is located at 223 Fourth St. in Des Moines. For more information, visit www.fongspizza.com or call 515-323-3333.

The Masonic Temple — now known as the Temple for Performing Arts — was built
in 1913 and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Two restaurants
are inside at 1003 Locust St. Photos taken Aug. 21, 2017.

Built in 1913, the Masonic Temple of Des Moines was a grand building when it opened. But by the late 1900s, it had fallen from glory and was thought to be a teardown. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was also one of the most endangered. Luckily, Harry and Pam Bookey (a developer) swooped in and by fall 2002 a $9 million renovation had been completed.

The building saw the restoration of many of the ornate architectural elements that it was known for, and repurposed the structure. Today — renamed the Temple for Performing Arts — the building houses the Temple Theater, venue spaces, office spaces and two restaurants. It is also home to the first Starbucks in the state. One of the restaurants, South Union Bread Café, is a popular sandwich joint operating during weekday lunch only — and constantly has a line out the door. The other restaurant needs no introduction. Centro elevated the Des Moines food scene upon opening in 2002 and continues to turn out some of the best fare in the city.

Centro is located at 1003 Locust St. in Des Moines. For more information, visit http://www.centrodesmoines.com or call 515-248-1780.

The building at 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway was built in 1908 and was home to Old Tavern Brewery, where the Des Moines Brewing Company sold Old Tavern Beer. The libations didn’t last long, and the brewery was forced to close during prohibition. The website for Eychaner Properties — which developed and owns the building — boasts it is the last pre-prohibition brewery building in the city. Rich Eychaner says another tenant of the building was Green Colonial Furnace Company.

Today, the building — known as 300mlk — is one of downtown’s newest hot spots and hosts no less than four dining establishments. Chains Blaze Pizza, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Jimmy John’s occupy the first floor. Also on the ground level are local establishments Guru BBQ and DSM Brew Coffee Company — which was inspired by the old brewery days. There’s also Anytime Fitness on the second floor, and 300 Craft & Rooftop — a bar offering one of the few rooftop views of downtown — occupy the third floor.

Since reopening in 2015, the solid brick structure and framework is close to all that remains the same from its original tenant. Newer, larger windows replaced the old ones and the inside has been completely remodeled for a modern, clean look — with each tenant creating their aesthetic for their individual spaces.

300mlk is located at 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Des Moines. For more information, visit http://www.300mlk.com or call 515-262-0000. ♦


Categories: The Feature

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