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Drake Neighborhood Celebrates
By Linda Montet | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
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Those who live there know the Drake neighborhood has just about everything—shopping, a movie theater, dry cleaners, a hair salon, restaurants, and coffee shops. You can study at the university, enjoy several parks, attend sporting events, and even hop a bus for a quick ride downtown.

Thanks in large part to the 30-year-old Drake Neighborhood Association, the area in and around Drake University has experienced a cultural and historic revival in recent years. Friendly folks have purchased and restored the area’s beautiful old homes. Other residents have moved there just because they appreciate the architecture and enjoy the community’s small-town feel.

The Neighborhood
Drake University and the Drake neighborhood began together in 1881, when—known as University Place—this high and dry location lined with lush oak trees became one of Des Moines’ first and most attractive suburbs.

When backers of Drake University chose the promising location far northwest of downtown, they envisioned surrounding the campus with a suburb featuring wide, graded streets, alleys, sidewalks, and even a park.

 “Drake University acted as a real-estate developer planning University Place, platting lots, and attracting families to build houses,” says Jennifer James, an historic preservationist who lives in the neighborhood. She and her husband, Larry, have restored several homes in the Drake area.
“The university’s real-estate success funded the building of the campus and started the booming northwestern development of Des Moines,” she says. “Most of the early residents were connected to Drake University in some way, so everyone here wanted to see the university and community succeed.”

Although the central roadway through the area, Cottage Grove Avenue, had given farmers longtime access to the center of the city, the young suburb’s location seemed far enough away to avoid the downtown area’s grime and congestion.

By 1890, University Place was a booming little community, with an electric streetcar running from downtown to 24th Street. A building boom in the early 1900s further developed the refined character of the neighborhood.

Throughout the community, front porches of homes built through the 1930s in Victorian, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Tudor styles unite the area. From the beginning, Drake University relied on the neighborhood to provide housing for students (the first dormitory was not built until the university was 50 years old). This led to a number of larger homes being used as Greek sorority and fraternity houses or apartments for students.

The Association
By the 1970s, with rising university enrollment, a new freeway tearing through the neighborhood, and some beautiful homes falling into disrepair, it was time for residents to take action.

“Few homeowners remained in the oldest part of the neighborhood because so many houses had been turned into rental apartments,” says Patty Daniels, former resident and past president of the Drake Neighborhood Association. “It was a friendly, safe place, but becoming dilapidated.”

She and her husband, former Des Moines mayor Preston Daniels, were among the first to speak out for improving the area. A group of concerned residents formed a nonprofit neighborhood association, the second in the city.

The new association focused on preserving and restoring the historic housing stock by working on code enforcement with the city and returning houses back to single-family dwellings. They picked up trash and organized tree plantings and other beautification projects.

“At that time, the city of Des Moines was pretty provincial and extremely conservative,” Patty says. “We wanted to improve our neighborhood, but we were stymied at every turn. We even had to sneak out to plant flowers. Finally city leaders started paying attention.”

Within a few years, the Drake area was named the city’s most improved neighborhood. Today, with more than 50 organized neighborhoods in the city, the Drake Neighborhood Association remains one of the most active.

The Residents
A notably diverse community, the neighborhood today has a distinctly small-town atmosphere. It includes the Kingman Place Historic District, and many houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Homes.

“It’s the friendliness of the people that we love,” says resident and association board member Bonita Crowe. She and her husband, Keith, had planned to build a new home in Urbandale but fell in love with a rehabilitated Victorian home while on the tour of homes a few years ago.

“From the time we bought the house, we had so many people welcome us,” she says. “I like the total sense of community and dedication to doing whatever it takes to bring people together,” she says. “They don’t just talk about it; they live it.”

To keep the community alive and well, the Drake Neighborhood Association organizes National Night Out, Jazz in July, and Dogtown Fest and even encourages lawn concerts, ice cream socials, and cookie exchanges. The Drake Tour of Historic Homes is the highlight of each year’s events. Both the Crowe and James homes are featured on the tour.

Preservationist Couple Saves Cottage Grove Home
When Charlotte and Rick Lee drove by a home for sale near the east end of Cottage Grove Avenue in 2006, they were sure it was beyond repair. A tree had nearly taken down the front porch, and years of neglect made the house appear completely dilapidated.

It was the provenance inside the home that changed their minds. Bags full of family memorabilia were headed for the trash. Once they began to look into the family’s photos, records, and history, the couple took another look around, saw some potential for restoration, and just couldn’t let it go.

Built in 1896, it housed the family and descendents of German emigrant Conrad Amend. Regarded as “a man of unusual business acumen,” Amend had built a successful grocery business from pennies, with stores and meat markets throughout Des Moines.

His son and daughter-in-law, Edward and Daisy, moved into the house shortly after the turn of the century. Edward served as treasurer of the family business and passed the house on to his sons, Edward Jr. and Robert. By the time Robert died a few years ago, the house had fallen into disrepair. It was inherited by a distant relative.

According to Drake neighborhood documents from 1982, this is one of only four homes in the district to stay within the same family for seven or more (now nearly ten) decades.

The Lees, who have lived in the Drake Neighborhood for 20 years and have renovated five houses there, replaced the home’s
decaying front porch and completely restored the inside of the home in its original Victorian architectural style.
The Amend home is a designated stop on the Drake Neighborhood Historic Tour of Homes to be held June 6 and 7. Currently a rental property, the beautifully refurbished home is being offered for sale.

Historic Walking Tour
The Drake Neighborhood Association has once again organized the Drake Tour of Historic Homes. Historic homes on this, the 23rd annual tour, are located between 25th Street and 31st Street, the
historic heart of the neighborhood.

Located in one of Des Moines’ first suburban areas, the homes surrounding Drake University are among the most architecturally significant in the city. Many date back to the late 1800s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Neighborhood homeowners invest significant time and resources into restoring these stately homes and businesses. Dedicated to preserving the legacy of its past, the 300-member association invites others to visit and learn about their neighborly community once each year.

Tour Details
Saturday, June 6, and Sunday, June 7

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day (Ticket sales end at 4 p.m. each day.)

Tour starts:
At the Judicature Society House, 2700 University, built in 1901 for Drake University Chancellor William Craig.

Advance tickets:
$10, available at Dahl’s Foods (Ingersoll and Beaver locations), Hy-Vee Drugtown, Mars Cafe, and Smitten Kitten.

Tickets on tour days:
$15 at 2700 University Avenue

Live music:
Both days at the home of Bonita and Keith Crowe, 1052 26th St.
Saturday, June 6, 1 to 3 p.m., Chad Elliott
Sunday, June 7, 1 to 3 p.m., Austin Schreck

Food and beverages provided by Drake-area businesses are available along the tour.

Locations open for tour:
Betsey and George Qualley, 1008 26th Street
Bonita and Keith Crowe, 1052 26th Street
John Beard, 2912 Kingman Boulevard
Jennifer and Larry James, 1056 26th Street
Spencer Vandeberg, 1100 25th Street
Gene and Sondra Wilson, 2923 Rutland
Mark Matteo, 2932 Rutland
Tedra and Matt Kent, 1014 26th Street
Charlotte and Rick Lee, 2715 Cottage Grove
Lisa and Ronald Paskach, 2414 Kingman Boulevard

Proceeds benefit:
All proceeds of the home tour benefit the nonprofit
Drake Neighborhood Association. The association works
to preserve the history and integrity of the area, including
beautification projects.

For more information, visit the Drake Neighborhood Association web site at :


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