Thursday, June 1, 2023

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Once Upon A Time

From the Des Moines City Council minutes


100 years ago (June 1915):

Both cesspools are “full and overflowing” and in “deplorable condition,” reported health officer Dr. Sayler and A.B. Pray, plumbing inspector, of the Deptartment of Public Safety regarding the Detention and Diphtheria Hospitals. They recommended a septic tank connection be made to the cesspools at a cost of about $500. In addition, since “water stands in the basement of the Diphtheria Hospital all the time,” they suggested installing “85 feet of 4-inch tile to drain” and then “make the necessary disinfectant.” Motion carried unanimously. ($500 in 1915 is about $11,700 today. The Detention Hospital cared for patients with serious communicable diseases. It was located four blocks east of where Broadlawns is today, and now under the trees near Prospect Park.)

Petition filed to rename Ingersoll Avenue to Ingersoll Boulevard “unless there are legal complications.”

Superintendent of Parks and Public Property ruling forbids any dances in parks “where charges are made for admission for the privilege of dancing.” Separate business: Riverview Amusement Co. approved for a license to operate a dancing pavilion at the new Riverview Park during the summer. Related: City Council appoints Mr. Sommers, “Special Policeman,” and Mrs. Marguerite English appointed “Matron of the Dance Hall at Riverview Amusement Park.” (That ballroom was the largest wood dance floor in Iowa for many years.)

Frank Schlampp Co. granted permission, at its own expense, to “stretch an overhead wire for a wireless receiving machine; said wire to extend from the Equitable Building to the Observatory Building.” (From Sixth and Locust to 402 Locust, for an antenna? The company manufactured and repaired jewelry and advertised as “diamond setters.”)

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50 years ago (June 1965):

Des Moines Park Board and Purchasing Agent to purchase from Chance Manufacturing Co., Wichita, Kansas, “one miniature train (locomotive, coaches, switches, rails, public address system and appurtenances) for $25,635.70 for Blank Park Children’s Zoo.” (About $200,000 in today’s money, and maybe the same train is still there?)

Bethel Bible Church granted permission to have a Christian and patriotic motor caravan, with police escort, containing approximately 30 cars, having three public address systems — one for the lead, middle, and last cars — leaving the Capitol, traveling to Merle Hay Plaza and back to the church via Euclid. Calvary Community Chapel Vacation Bible School granted permission to have a police escorted “parade with one sound car, at least one float and an assortment of decorated bikes.”

Greater Des Moines Soap Box Derby granted permission to use a public address system and block Walnut, Grand and Locust streets on east side, near the Capitol, for its race. Central Iowa Model A Club granted parade permit for 30-35 vehicles, lasting about 45 minutes, starting at 17th and Ingersoll, proceeding on Keo, Forest, Beaver and ending at Merle Hay Plaza. (Derby now at Ewing Park and Model A Club, started in 1961 by Bob Darr, still exists.

Bid accepted from L.G. Barcus Co. of Kansas City for $128,900 for “removal of the Sixth Avenue bridge over the Des Moines River” and debris in the river channel. Pigeon’s Furniture and Appliance Store on Beaver granted license for “lost lease sale.” (Bridge cost about $960,000 today. A search of “Lost Des Moines” Facebook page finds dozens of local posts regarding the bridge removal and memories of shopping and the demise of four Pigeon’s stores and even a Pigeon’s grocery store?)


25 years ago (June 1990):

Mayor Dorrian appointed Kathryn Oliphant Watts to the Des Moines Sister Cities Commission. (Commission still very active.) Cityview “It’s Your Money” column in 2005 noted $1,823.50 ($3,300 now) paid to her for five days travel in China regarding the 20th Anniversary of that sister city relationship.

Bid accepted for 10 Magellan penguins for Blank Park Zoo at cost $15,000 from San Francisco Zoo — only source available. In addition, plans, specs and bid accepted of $118,118 from Passport Inc. for new Sea Lion Holding Building at zoo. ($27,000 for penguins. Zoo currently has seven — two males and five females. Cost for the building in today’s money is $213,800.)

Director of Des Moines Playhouse granted permission to temporarily change the name of Rollins Avenue to Broadway Lane from June 18-24 for International Theatre Festival. (In 1953, Playhouse Co. moved to “B” movie house, Roosevelt Theatre, at 42nd and Rollins. In 1990, it achieved international recognition as host of that “first-ever International Community Theatre Festival.” Performing for more than 90 years, it is the second largest community theatre in the U.S.) CV


Steve Nelson-Vaux is a retired Iowa farmer-turned-library explorer and vintage prospector digging Des Moines’ and S.E. Polk’s historical aether-ore.


  1. Steve Nelson-Vaux says:

    ERROR IN ARTICLE: “” is wrong – it should be: “”

    1. Brian Olson says:


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