Cityview on Facebook Cityview on Twitter Cityview on MySpace Cityview on flickr Follow Me on Pinterest  
Des Moines Cityview

Sponsored Ad

Civic Skinny

September 6, 2012
Follow Me on Pinterest

In praise of B.J. Furgerson. When Babe went to jail


No one seems to have noticed, but B.J. Furgerson was reappointed the other day to a three-year term on the board of Iowa Public Television.

That should have been news. For Furgerson, now 85 years old, has been on the board since 1980, and her 32-year run is one of the longest — if not the longest — anyone has ever served on a state board. From 1980 to 1989, she was an appointee of the governor to the nine-person board, and since 1989 she’s been the representative of the Board of Regents. She was president of the IPTV board for 23 years, from 1986 to 2009.

“What I’ve learned [from her] could fill volumes,” Dan Miller, who runs IPTV, told Cityview. “Her wise counsel has helped shape nearly every significant development here, and her enthusiasm and energy bring spark and light to any discussion....I don’t know if I’ve ever met a more selfless public servant. She stands taller than all.”

Furgerson was born in Waterloo, where her father was a doctor and her mother the first black person to teach in the Waterloo schools. She graduated from UNI and was for many years the director of the Waterloo Human Rights Commission. She served on the Board of Regents from 1989 to 1995, and in 1990 she was named to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. She is as tough and tireless as she is kind and thoughtful.

In 2006, Furgerson received a national public-television award for “exemplary leadership.” “She was nominated for that award by Sen. Tom Harkin and former Congressman Jim Nussle — who didn’t agree on much, of course, but did agree on the importance of B.J. to this enterprise, locally and nationally,” Miller said. ...

Meredith Corp. has bought that square block between Grand and Ingersoll and 16th and 17th streets, further good news for the west end of downtown. The block, cleared except for the onetime Iowa Paint store at 17th and Ingersoll, is an eyesore for those driving west on the rejuvenated Grand past the stunning sculpture garden, the new Wellmark building and the Meredith building. It has been owned by Nautilus Properties, which is owned by Tom Goldman, whose family owned Iowa Paint.

Meredith paid $1.2 million for the block and probably will resell it eventually. The company “has an interest in the property and how it looks and what goes there,” according to Art Slusark, the Meredith vice president and chief communications officer. Meredith “is looking for an owner who would develop it in line with the master plan for the western gateway and the current character of the neighborhood.” Translation: Lots of people at that end of downtown are still pissed that Rich Eychaner leased a building across from the sculpture garden to Subway, with its big yellow sign staring down at those million-dollar sculptures, and they don’t want to see a repeat of that.

The block, which is assessed at $1,248,000, has an interesting history. Until the 1930s, it was lined with homes along Grand Avenue. By 1930, two gas stations and a tombstone company were there — the monument company stayed for decades — and by 1950 there were a couple of restaurants and an auto-repair shop on the block as well. (And for a while, a Mrs. W. Grace had a poultry store there.) For a brief time, it was home to a Rolls-Royce dealer, though no one can remember many Rolls-Royces driving around town. For 20 year or so, until the 1990s, it was the site of the Betts Cadillac used-car lot. The Goldmans sold Iowa Paint to PPG Industries in 2006, and PPG then closed the downtown site.

Meredith already is doing some grading on the lot and plans to pretty it up while the company awaits a proper buyer. ...

Meantime, the old Casson’s Meat Market — later a post office — across the street at 15th and Grand is being sold to Scott Buchanan, who owns the adjacent Scotty’s Body Shop, Cityview hears. The half-acre plot and the one-story, 9,065-square-foot building are assessed at $1,090,000 and are owned by the children of Babe Bisignano, the restaurateur who also owned the meat market at one time. No sale has been recorded yet, and Buchanan didn’t respond to a Cityview inquiry by press time. Presumably, he plans to put up something appropriate to the neighborhood.

[An aside: Bisignano was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to six months in jail in the mid 1940s after he got into a physical confrontation with Judge Harry Grund at the YMCA about a liquor raid at Babe’s restaurant on Sixth Avenue. As part of his sentence, he sometimes worked raking and mowing the lawn at the Christ Child Home, an orphanage on Grand Avenue that now is the law office of Alfredo Parrish.

[Once, as Babe told Skinny 40 years ago, the Casson’s Meat Market truck was making a delivery to the orphanage. Babe thought the driver was driving too fast up the driveway and went over and told him to slow down because there were children around. “Who’s a prisoner to tell me to slow down?” the driver said. “Listen,” Babe said, “I own this meat market.” “Yeah, sure,” the guy said, and drove away.

[When the driver got back to the market, he told the story about “this crazy prisoner guy.” Told that the crazy prisoner guy did in fact own the market, “the driver quit and I’ve never seen him since,” Babe said. “I still owe him a week’s pay.”]

Other real-estate news: The Hubbell interests, which have been building heavily downtown, plan to put townhouses on Seventh Street, a half-block or so south of Martin Luther King Parkway. Rich Eychaner and John Shors, who control the large block between Third and Fifth streets, just south of Martin Luther King, are talking with city officials about putting several apartment buildings on the site. One holdup: Do they restore or demolish the old brewery building there?

And look for a big announcement this year that Altoona has bested Kearney, Neb., for that $1 billion computer data center the two communities were competing for. It’s unclear what the company is, though the Kearney newspaper has speculated it is Facebook. An announcement was expected in late spring, but it has been repeatedly delayed.

On the home front, the Kruidenier home at 3409 Southern Hills Drive has been sold for $570,000 to Walter E. Lauridsen. The 4,000-square-foot house, which is on 3.5 acres, was built in 1960 by the late publisher of The Des Moines Register and was occupied by his widow, Des Moines lawyer Elizabeth Kruidenier, until her death last October. Lauridsen currently lives in the Brown-Camp lofts. ...

No more free Sunday Register newspapers for those filling up their tanks with at least $20 of gasoline at Kum and Go shops. Beginning last weekend, folks had to pay 99 cents for the paper, a guy tells Skinny. Publisher Laura Hollingsworth confirms it. ...

Finally, from the mailbag:

“Dear Civic Skinny:

“I think we have been overwhelmed by the number of Latham for Congress advertisements that have appeared recently on television.

“I was quite intrigued to see that [they] were sponsored by the American Chemistry Council. While this appears to be a large trade association, I don’t believe they have the same presence in Iowa, that say, a corn growers group, or cattleman’s association might have. So it made me curious as to why they would be running so many ads here. Then, I discovered that one of their employees is Marcus Branstad. Gee.



“A Moderate Friend.”

Indeed, Marcus Branstad, one of the governor’s sons, is an Iowa-based manager at the American Chemistry Council, where he has worked for nearly three years. The Washington-based council is made up of scores of chemical companies and recently ran three weeks of ads praising Republican Latham — who is opposing fellow incumbent Leonard Boswell — and encouraging “constituents to contact Congressman Latham’s office and tell him to keep up the good work,” according to a council news release. …

“There’s a line in a poem that I can’t remember exactly, but it’s about forgetting and how long forgetting takes. So maybe that is where the test the forgetting.” — Nancy Sebring. CV

Special Sections


Big Green Umbrella Media, Inc. • 414 61st Street • Des Moines, Iowa 50312 • 515-953-4822 • 515.953.1394 (fax)
©2012 Copyright Big Green Umbrella Media

Sponsored by
Sponsored Ad