Feb 15, 2023 - News

Former barber shop, Fort Des Moines seek local landmark status

A photo of a barber shop.

Harlan's Barber Shop, 2513 Woodland Ave. in Des Moines, as it looked last year. Photo courtesy of Kelli Lydon Research Services via the City of DSM

The former Harlan's Barber Shop would become a local landmark under a proposal going before DSM's plan and zoning commission tomorrow.

Why it matters: The building helps tell the story of local 1900s development — including the displacement of Black residents from the nearby Center Street district, according to the landmark application.

  • The designation would trigger a city review process to help protect the building before major changes could be made to the site.

Details: Constructed in 1915, the building was used as a grocery store for more than 50 years.

  • Harlan and William Thomas purchased and converted it into "Harlan's Barber Shop" in the late 1960s, which operated there until about eight years ago.

Zoom in: The Barber Shop became a gathering place and a mainstay of local Black culture as neighborhoods were demolished in the '60s to construct freeways, according to the landmark application.

A photo of Harlan Thomas.
Harlan Thomas and a customer in his barbershop, which closed around 2015. Photo courtesy of Kelli Lydon Research Services via the City of DSM

Of note: Harlan Thomas was involved in the jazz scene on Center Street that thrived before the freeway was constructed and was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in 1999.

What's happening: Steve Wilke-Shapiro, owner of Sequel Architecture, is proposing a historic rehabilitation of the vacant shop.

  • He plans to move his office from Ingersoll Avenue to the site, he tells Axios.

What's next: City zoning staffers have recommended the commission approve the landmark status, according to tomorrows agenda.

  • The DSM City Council could give a final nod to the designation in coming weeks.

Fort Des Moines

A photo of Fort Des Moines.
Clayton Hall was originally used as officers quarters. It's now the Fort DSM Museum and Education Center. Photo courtesy of RDG Planning & Design via the city of DSM

Meanwhile, Fort Des Moines supporters are also seeking local landmark status for its museum and chapel.

Catch up fast: The early 1900s cavalry post was the first U.S. Army training ground for Black officers.

  • It also became the first training center for the Women's Army Corps during World War II.

Zoom in: The training school is already listed as a national landmark.

  • The local designation could help qualify it for structural improvement grants, Jack Porter, an officer of Fort Des Moines Memorial Park, tells Axios.
A photo of the chapel at Fort Des Moines.
Fort DSM's chapel was constructed in the early 1900s for just under $12,000. Photo courtesy of Kelli Lydon Research Services via the city of DSM
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