The Des Moines Social Club is getting ready to break ground at its new home, the downtown Des Moines firehouse at Ninth and Mulberry streets.
The Des Moines Social Club is getting ready to break ground at its new home, the downtown Des Moines firehouse at Ninth and Mulberry streets.

By now, Zachary Mannheimer’s story is fairly well-known. A Des Moines transplant by way of New York, he arrived in the city in 2007 with an idea to create a nonprofit arts and cultural center. Both Mannheimer and his idea, now the Des Moines Social Club, have received support and guidance from some of Des Moines’ biggest leaders.

But from the Social Club’s beginning, it has lived in temporary quarters – operating first at 1408 Locust St. and then out of the Kirkwood building. On April 9, the Social Club will break ground and begin renovations on the downtown firehouse, located at Ninth and Mulberry streets. Not only will the arts group turn the historic building into an arts incubator and entertainment venue; it will finally have a permanent home.

“This is the effort of hundreds of people,” said Mannheimer, executive director of the Social Club. “While it’s close to the original vision, the final product is better and so much bigger than my original vision ever was.”

When construction is complete in 2014, the Social Club will move from the confines of 3,000 square feet in the Kirkwood, to a location made up of two buildings and that spans an entire city block. The historically preserved building will feature seven performance venues, a restaurant, a bar and gallery space.

“We’re trying to provide something for everyone,” Mannheimer said, adding that his goal is to attract people from every walk of life. “So even if you don’t like theater, you’ll come for dinner. And maybe after you see people walk over to see a show enough times, you’ll want to try it out.”

A closer look at the Social Club’s new home:

First floor

Orchestrate Hospitality will operate a 200-seat restaurant that will take up the majority of the first floor. Several accordion-style doors will replace the current ones, which can open and close during summer months to reveal patio seating.

Another 16,000 square feet on the first floor will be turned into a culinary school. No plans are solidified, but Mannheimer envisions popular chef George Formaro holding cooking classes in the space as well as forming a partnership with Des Moines Area Community College to offer classes.

Other first-floor features include an all-glass Firefighter Memorial that will continue through the second floor, the preservation of two fire poles and 12,000 square feet of retail space. Mannheimer said the space has not yet been leased.

Second floor

Office and classroom space will take up much of the second floor. In addition to Des Moines Social Club offices, six or seven arts and culture nonprofit organizations, including Civic Music Association, Ballet Des Moines, Greater Des Moines Music Coalition and Repertory Theater of Iowa, are in talks to have office space on the second floor.

There will be four classrooms that can be used by the Social Club as well as the nonprofit groups renting office space.

Other second-floor features include a renovated and restored all-glass handball court that will double as space to hold smaller, intimate performances such as a singer-songwriter series, a 2,000-square-foot art gallery and the potential for a radio studio.


In the courtyard area between the two buildings, Mannheimer wants to add outdoor theater-style seating and a stage to hold concerts and shows. This area will also hold a community garden and a tower, which the Social Club acquired with property. The tower will take on the new persona of the Social Beacon, in honor of the retired KCCI Weather Beacon. Mannheimer said what began as a joke on Facebook quickly turned into reality, with one donor even specifying his donation could only be put toward maintaining the beacon.

Back building

The back building, which used to serve as an area for truck maintenance, will become a 250-seat theater with additional accordion-style doors that will open up to expose more patio seating.

The building’s basement will become a bar that will hold the Social Club’s weekly activities, including Team Trivia and Open Circus, and double as additional performance space.

Other back building features include a rooftop patio. The alleyway between the downtown firehouse and the Ninth Street viaduct will house picnic tables and local sculpture. Mannheimer wants to get approval from the city to add murals onto the walls of the viaduct.