HELP WANTED: Person needed to create something wonderful out of an empty spot in Downtown Des Moines. 400,000 square feet available. Some debris removal required. Portions of Tea Room included. Helpful if partially crazy.
The monumental fire and the destruction of the Younkers Building was quite a tragedy — sad for sure. But, unfortunately, today is already tomorrow. It’s time to pull up our pants, dust off our hands and get to work. Let’s look at those burnt embers and see them for what they are — a chance to cut out of whole cloth, a chance to do something totally different, totally unexpected, and totally awe-inspiring. Heck, it’s a chance to order the large malt with sprinkles and gummy bears AND Oreo cookie crumbs. Why not?
Come on, we need something special for this rebuilding project, something that catches your eye when you’re driving to work or dropping kids off at school. Maybe something that causes you to sit up a little straighter, be a little better or smile for just a moment. Something that Raygun might put on a T-shirt, or something where you tell out-of-town visitors “you’re gonna want to see this,” or something that has a crazy reality TV show named after it. I mean, really, why not?
There is this guy in Barcelona, Spain, who could do this for us. His name is Antoni Gaudi. When I first saw his work, I thought he had more than one screw loose. It was dark and late at night as I walked with my wife on the streets of Barcelona. Suddenly an apparition appeared to our left — a disturbing and wondrous vision. Gaudi built a house of bone-like windows and blue-green colors and nary a straight line. Imagine coming home from Court Avenue and seeing this structure at the corner of 7th and Walnut. Now that would rock you back on your heals in a wonderful way. Are those skulls? Is that a dragon on the roof? Sure, it’s no Tea Room, but WOW.
You’re getting nervous? Well, we can sell prom dresses on the first floor during tournament season. We can have Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus sing from the windows during Pride Week. And talk about a great Haunted House. We can make this work. Why not?
You want another choice? OK, how about this apartment complex Gaudi built just up the road on the Passeig de Gracia? On the roof is a magical kingdom of vents and chimneys and open spaces. This guy is totally wild. Wouldn’t it be fun to go up on the roof among all these playful air ducts and look out over downtown Des Moines? And if we went this direction, I assure you, Des Moines would have the next Star Wars Celebration, the next Star Trek Convention, and the next meeting of the Society for Creative Anachronism in the bag. Why not?
You want a third option? OK, what about Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia? The church sitting in the heart of Barcelona holds 13,000 visitors. When we walked through the massive doors and looked up, my wife and I stood immobile with tears in our eyes at the wonder of it all. Even the Pope came to visit this place in 2010. Just picture such a building on the corner, rising up out of the center of Des Moines like a phoenix out of the ashes. The Eighth Wonder of the World right here on 7th and Walnut. Why not?
Ah, but sadly I have bad news. Gaudi’s dead. Ignominiously dead. Dead with such irony you don’t know whether to laugh or cry — flattened by a tram in 1926 and left on the side of the road to die. Everyone thought he was a bum. Not the best reflection on mankind. But, ironic or not, I’m afraid Gaudi’s unavailable.
Where does that leave us? Who would have the audaciousness to pull this off? Come on, let’s push the envelope. Don’t forget, we’re the home of the Varnum decision. We twice elected the current president of the United States. And must I mention the Butter Cow?
OK, how about this guy out of Paris? I think his name is Gustave Eiffel…
And, really, why not? CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.