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River Bend Neighborhood
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
home :: home & garden :: featured remodels

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Des Moines’ historic River Bend continues its transformation.

Each September, the River Bend Neighborhood Association in Des Moines hosts its Historic Home Tour. Visitors have the opportunity to tour some beautiful old houses and glimpse Des Moines the way it used to be. And the tour always offers something more—the chance to see transformation in process and to be a part of the unique story of the River Bend area.

In the Beginning

The River Bend Neighborhood, one of the oldest in Des Moines, includes the area between Hickman Road and University Avenue from 2nd Avenue to 9th Street. This historic part of the city features homes dating back to the 1870s, when some of the city’s wealthiest residents built spacious homes along the river. Early homeowners included a well-to-do pharmacist, a financier and real estate investor, an insurance executive, and a sculptress.

At the turn of the 20th century, this eclectic group of Iowans built homes that reflected their social standing as well as their tastes, from brick Victorian to modern Prairie style, Colonial Revival to Queen Anne.

In Between

As the years passed and fortunes rose and declined, the homes in the River Bend district changed as well. Some simply changed ownership time after time. Others underwent more dramatic changes.

“Our home was originally built for the France family,” says Mike Hildebrand, River Bend Neighborhood Association board member and chairman of this year’s Historic Homes Tour. “But when the family sold it in the 1930s, it was divided into eight apartments.”

When Hildebrand and Maury Adair bought the property in 2007, 70 years had passed since the house was a single-family residence. Now the home has been lovingly restored, blending much of its original Prairie styling with contemporary features and modern conveniences.

But theirs is one of the more positive histories. Other River Bend homes were not so fortunate. During the first half of the 20th century, numerous homes in the neighborhood changed owners, were converted to rental units, or were simply abandoned. Though many residents sought to maintain their homes and improve the area’s reputation for crime, the River Bend neighborhood continued to decline for years.

In the Meantime

In the 1980s the River Bend Neighborhood Association was founded to improve the neighborhood and restore its properties. Those goals are evident in the homes on this year’s tour.

Since first featured on the tour in 2012, Valerie Loebach’s home has been transformed from an abandoned shell to a stunning landmark. Loebach has completed two of the home’s three bathrooms, much of the kitchen renovation, and some of the bedrooms. She is currently working on the back parlor and butler’s pantry.

“When I bought the house, I considered it a five-year project,” Loebach says. “So at the two-year mark this past May, I consider myself ahead of schedule.”

The home known as the Farm House, a stately brick Victorian, was recently purchased by Gregory and Breanne Barnum, longtime River Bend residents. The couple has restored several other properties in the area and sold them to new owners, but this house is different.

“We’ve had our eye on this one for a while,” Breanne says. “I see it as our forever home, so we plan to take our time fixing this one up just the way we want it.”

Adam Bartelt and April Ziskovsky are doing the same with their Colonial Revival home.

They have painstakingly refinished the trim, re-created architectural built-ins, and restored features such as the original fireplace. The couple acknowledges that the investment in their home’s restoration will probably never be recovered financially.

“But most of us in the neighborhood don’t do this for the money,” Bartelt says. “We do it because we like the neighborhood and the character of the homes.”

Ziskovsky agrees. “We had friends who lived in the area. So when we started looking for a house, we knew this was a good place to look. And it’s so convenient to downtown, the bike trail, the interstate.”

During the River Bend Historic Home Tour this September, you can walk through these and other homes and get a peek at some lovely historic architecture. Along the way, you can also view beautiful antiques and visit with local artists whose work is on display throughout the neighborhood.

Best of all, you’ll be part of a story that just keeps getting better as time goes on.


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