Saturday, February 15, 2014

A global persective; Chariton's Register nomination

I'm wondering how many of us remember post-1950 school trips to Des Moines that included stops at 715 Locust --- Des Moines Register & Tribune Co. headquarters --- while touring the big city.

Don't remember much about The Register visits, to be honest, but do remember this giant globe, once the most distinctive feature of the Register & Tribune lobby, parked Friday as it has been since early December in the atrium of the State Historical Museum.

Several of us were in Des Moines on a cold, slippery and slushy day to sit in on the hearing for Chariton's National Register of Historic Places nomination for the town square --- christened the Lucas County Courthouse Square Historic District. More about that later.

The 6-foot spun aluminum globe, built by Rand McNally, was installed in the 13-story Register & Tribune Building during 1950 --- still the glory days of print journalism. It's twin was installed at about the same time in the lobby of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Both then were owned by the Cowles family.

Much has changed. The Tribune, central Iowa's afternoon daily, was discontinued; both The Register and The Star-Trib were sold, The Register to Gannett; presses and related production and distribution facilities were moved to a giant new suburban building; last June, 715 Locust was evacuated as the newspaper news and administrative staff moved to rented offices in Capital Square; and now the building itself is empty and for sale.

And last October, the globe was evacuated and carefully moved across the river to the museum where it was remounted, touched up a little and prepared for display.

It was good to see the old globe again, but don't get me started on the decline of The Des Moines Register.


Anyhow, Ottumwa-based architectural historian Molly Myers Naumann has spent months preparing Chariton's nomination for Historic District status for the downtown Main Street District and it has been reviewed on a couple of occasions by State Historical Society of Iowa staff and enhanced to incorporate staff suggestions.

Friday's event was the nomination's formal hearing before the State Nominations Review Committee, which is a key event in the process. Molly was snowed in at Ottumwa, but several of us slipped and slid up from Chariton to show community support for the nomination --- Mayor Roger Manser, Vern and Barb Vogel, Karen Wilker, Ruth Comer and Ray Meyer, Kris Patrick, Alyse Hunter and myself.

We were able to answer questions from review committee members, and then the application was approved after a brief hearing --- needless to say, we were pleased. 

This doesn't mean the goal has been achieved. The application will return to Molly to be amended again, incorporating committee-suggested changes; then it will return to the state for approval again; and finally, the state will forward the nomination to the National Park Service for what we hope will be final approval. It is a long, complex and not inexpensive process. But we left the hearing room feeling positive about the outcome.

It's also interesting to see the town square we're so familiar with from the perspective of others. One committee member asked why the wonderful iron (and one stone) exterior staircases around the square --- there are seven of these if I'm counting right --- had not been include as "contributing features" in the nomination.

Well, the answer was --- we're so accustomed to seeing them, and so is Molly (who has done a good deal of work here on previous nominations), no one thought about it. You can bet we're thinking about those staircases now and that they'll be added to the nomination.


Since the hearing was brief, there was plenty of time to go up to Cafe Baratta on the highest level of the museum complex for lunch --- Italian sausage pasta in creamy tomato sauce, for me. Great stuff!

Cafe Baratta is an outpost of Des Moines' premiere Italian restaruant, just plain Baratta's, located in south Des Moines --- in a somewhat confusing location that sometimes causes the business to add "if you can find us" to its advertising materials.


Loved the food, but not so much the museum building --- a prejudice that dates back to 1987, when it was built. Part of that is related to the stark contrast between the new building, sprawling in a series of big striped and terraced chunks over a block just west of the Capitol, and the wonderful old Beaux-Arts historical building, now rechristened Ola Babcock, that it replaced.

Among other issues, the roof leaked then --- and still does --- and it sometimes seems impossible to get from one part of the building to another. Then there's the fact a huge percentage of the museum's 100,000-item collection is out of sight in storage and many of its display areas, static. And finally, there's that huge and soul-less atrium, vastly underutilized.

Changes are coming, however, and it will be interesting to see what develops. And I do enjoy this view of the State Capitol through these windows at the top of the atrium.


Ken said...

I remember those school trips to visit the Register. 7th graders would visit the Register, while 8th graders visited WHO-TV (or vice-versa). And we always got to eat at Bishops Café -- the highlight of the day for me!

Frank D. Myers said...

Chocolate pie with whipped cream and shaved chocolate topping. Ah, the memories.

Patrick Cremeens said...

YES to that pie at Bishop's! And I always had a Coke with it, just to make sure I got enough sugar. Ha!