Wilkins Building (Des Moines)

Wilkins Building Exterior

2019 Preservation at its Best: Large Commercial

The 1909 Wilkins Department Store building was the first reinforced concrete building in Des Moines. In 1924 it was annexed to the newly constructed Younkers Building. Following Younkers’ closure in the early 2000s, the building sat vacant for 10 years before a developer began rehabilitation. In 2014, a fire ravaged the Younkers building while the concrete Wilkins building, which the architect touted as fireproof, was damaged but remained intact. Blackbird Investments purchased the building and used state and federal historic tax credits, city development block grant funds, brownfield tax credits, and the Green Street program to help fund the preservation.

Wilkins Building Interior

The Wilkins Building now features four stories of 60 residential units (51 percent of which are affordable units) and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. The reinvigorated Wilkins Building now serves as a vital landmark for downtown Des Moines. The famous Younkers Tea Room on the sixth floor now serves as a premier event venue for groups of up to 430 people.

Preservation Iowa’s two most visible programs are Iowa’s Most Endangered and Preservation at Its Best. These two programs work well together because being listed as Most Endangered often times leads to awareness, a preservation effort, and a high-quality, award winning project.

The full list of Preservation Iowa’s 2019 Preservation at its Best award winners includes: