A Historic Iowa Row House Finds New Life as a Wine Bar

The finest wines are generally the ones that have been allowed to age and mature. And often, the best and most beloved restaurants and bars have a sense of age and history, as well. The march of time supplies depth and character to wine and the places where wine is enjoyed. A flavorful, complex glass of wine is an experience for all the senses, and that experience is enhanced in the right environment and in the right company.

In Des Moines, Iowa, patrons can enjoy fine wine in beautifully historic surroundings at Della Viti, a wine bar that has made its home in a repurposed 19th century row house.

In Des Moines, Iowa, patrons can enjoy fine wine in beautifully historic surroundings at Della Viti, a wine bar that has made its home in a repurposed 19th century row house.

All around the country, more restaurateurs and hospitality designers are utilizing historic and renovated space to provide a rich aesthetic and give a sense of history and place, even to brand new establishments. While new build-outs can sometimes be a bit generic or sterile, historic buildings provide a built-in warmth and comfort that is difficult to emulate.

In Des Moines, Iowa, visitors and patrons can enjoy fine wine in beautifully historic surroundings at Della Viti, a wine bar that has made its home in a repurposed 19th century row house. Its hip, relaxed atmosphere connects past with present.

History

The building, originally called the Samuel Green Row House, was built in 1884 as a home for the family of the prominent local business leader for whom the building was named. An early resident of Des Moines and a kind of city father, Green’s foundry and furnace became a cornerstone of the city’s development in the late 1800s.

A Romanesque revival facade wraps the eastern side of the building several feet deep, and the secondary elevations contain multiple fenestrations. The first floor retains an open hall layout that is publicly viewable and the second floor preserves its mid-20th century layout with original plaster walls.

The row house was used as a residence, either by the Green family or by renters, until the mid 1940s. In the late 1940s, it was remodeled and used as a rehearsal space and clubhouse for a Swedish choral and cultural group. It was renamed Norden Hall and was home to several organizations until the 1980s, when it went back to being a residence.

It limped along with a rotating cast of tenants, weathered and aging, until 2006 when the city of Des Moines purchased the building. The Des Moines Rehabbers Club named the building one of the city’s most endangered properties. It was located on the edge of the State of Iowa Capitol grounds, and when an expansion of those grounds was announced, demolition of the row house was scheduled for spring of 2013.

That could have spelled the end of Norden Hall, but preservation-minded private developer Jake Christensen and his firm, Des Moines-based Christensen Development, intervened. Not only would they rescue and renovate the classic structure, they would actually move it off the Capitol grounds and to a new location four blocks away.

Moving and Improving

To avoid demolition, a million-dollar investment was made to save and relocate the old row house 4 blocks from where it was originally built.

To avoid demolition, a million-dollar investment was made to save and relocate the old row house 4 blocks from where it was originally built.


A million-dollar investment was made to save and relocate the old row house. In spring of 2013, plans were made to move the 2,200-square-foot, 2-story, 440,000-pound building to its new home at 425 E. Grand. This was no small task. It required extensive planning and flawless execution to preserve the building and ensure safety for workers and the community.

After months of preparation and coordination, the building made the move at midnight on Sept. 25, 2013. It took just two and a half hours to complete the move and, upon its safe arrival, Norden Hall was lowered onto a new foundation and basement that had been built for it.

Once the building was secure in its new location, the construction team began work on the shell. There was much to be done to bring the building back to life and make it operable for the present day. New utilities were brought in and a grease interceptor installed to allow for a restaurant in the building. A new patio was constructed along the eastern wall and a portion of the west wall was stuccoed and painted to display the original aesthetic intent of the building.

PHOTOS: Jared Heideman

About the Author

Allen Barry
Allen Barry writes about architecture and sustainability from Chicago.

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