During the past three years or so, a renaissance has occurred along Sixth Avenue in Des Moines’ Highland Park/Oak Park neighborhoods with the renovation and repurposing of decades-old buildings.

That resurgence has turned the corner, literally, expanding eastward along Euclid Avenue.

Work is expected to begin in July on a $4.3 million restoration of a distinctive-looking two-story brick building at 413 Euclid Ave. that for decades was home to French Way Cleaners & Dyers. 

“This is just an amazing building,” Alexa McDowell of AKAY Consulting, a historical architectural consulting service located in Des Moines, said during a recent Urban Design Review Board meeting. “There’s not another facade like it in the city.”

Connor Delaney, manager of Euclid Foresight LLC, is partnering with Danny Heggen and Brandon Foldes of DEV Partners to renovate the structure located on the nearly half-acre site. The structure includes the original two-story building constructed in 1924, another building erected in the 1930s, and several additions.

Four apartments are planned on the second floor of the original building, and a local restaurant operator has signed a letter of intent for the street-level space. Other commercial space will also be available to lease.

The property’s restoration comes as a flurry of redevelopment activity is occurring along Sixth Avenue. North of Euclid on Sixth Avenue, the building that Chuck’s Restaurant occupies at 3610 Sixth Ave. underwent $1.4 million in upgrades including the replacement of its roof and rehabilitation of four upper-level apartments. Across the street, improvements were made to buildings now occupied by the Hiland Bakery, Slow Down Coffee Co. and Des Moines Mercantile. Improvements have also been made to a one-story structure at 3720 Sixth Ave., now home to Re/Max Precision Urban Office. 

On the south side of Euclid, on either side of Sixth Ave., developer Joe Cordaro is renovating properties at 3523 Sixth Ave. and 3524 Sixth Ave. Work on 3523 Sixth Ave., an 8,870-square-foot single-story building, is nearing completion and tenants are expected to move in beginning in mid-June.  

“This is a great area to be in – there’s a lot of energy,” said Cordaro, who has signed three tenants for six of the building’s retail bays. Tenants include the Collective, currently located in the downtown area; a tattoo artist who is moving from Mainframe Studios; and a yoga studio and therapist. “There’s interest in the other spaces and we expect them to be filled relatively soon.”

Renovation of the French Way Cleaners building will help spark tenant interest in the space, Cordaro said.

French Way history

In 1924, a permit valued at $20,000 was issued to Clarence E. Roush for the construction of the two-story brick building at 413 Sixth Ave., according to a historical timeline of the building. The structure, which resembled a bank building more than a professional laundry facility, was designed by architect Frederick Harris. 

The building was constructed around the same time Euclid Avenue was being widened, paved and extended eastward to East 14th Street, according to an application submitted in 1998 to the National Register of Historic Places from the Highland Park Historic Business District. The increase in vehicular traffic prompted the installation in 1929 of traffic signals at the Sixth and Euclid intersection, one of the first places Des Moines installed traffic control lights, according to the application.

And it was probably that increase in motorized vehicular traffic that made the Euclid Avenue site an ideal place for a dry-cleaning business. 

The distinctive-looking building features two stone horn blowers that appear to be serenading passersby below them. The horn blowers appear to be seated on brick piers that flank either side of a large window. Above the horn blowers are globe lights affixed to stone light standards. 

The stone was sculpted by Walter Sutton out of materials obtained from Rowat Cut Stone Co., a Des Moines-area business since 1882, according to a historical timeline of the building.

During the 1930s, several additions were put on the building, including an area where a fur storage vault was located, according to the timeline. 

“This is a really interesting building that combines that industrial character from the plant [in the rear of the building] with this finished character” in the front of the building, McDowell said.

Two or three houses were located immediately west of French Way Cleaners that were eventually razed to make way for the Hiland Theater and a building occupied by the Hi-Ho Grill that opened at 417 Euclid Ave. in 1939. A few years later, a one-story brick building was constructed between the restaurant and the laundry facility. Eventually, the structures were connected by doorways, essentially becoming one building.

The grill closed in 1995, the cleaners in 2018.

Breathing new life into buildings

Delaney bought the property in 2019 through Euclid Foresight LLC, which he manages. The buildings, spread over three lots, have nearly 18,000 square feet of space.  

The renovation includes installation of a new roof, windows and doors, all in compliance with historical standards. Also part of the project are restoration of the building’s facade, including the stone horn blowers; installation of new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; and preservation of the fur vault. 

A warehouse added to the back of the building will be demolished, creating space for a 12-space surface parking lot. 

The second story of the original building will be updated to allow for four apartment units, one of which will be rented at an affordable rate. The apartments will range in size from 440 to 488 square feet. 

The apartments are among about 20 new residential units being added to the Highland/Oak Park neighborhoods. Apartments were added above Chuck’s Restaurant, and Cordaro’s project at 3524 Sixth Ave. will include 12 upper-level units.

“We’re really excited about all of the investments happening in the Highland Park neighborhood,” Heggen told the Urban Review Design Board members. “Along that Euclid Avenue corridor – especially Sixth to Second Avenue – it’s great to see the development of a more walkable neighborhood and the future activation of both commercial and residential [projects].” 

Heggen, who declined to name the restaurant operator who is leasing space in the French Way Cleaners building, said restoration of the building is expected to be completed by May 2023.

The Des Moines City Council has approved preliminary terms of an Urban Renewal Development Agreement that will provide the project with up to $540,000. The Urban Design Review Board has approved the project’s design and the financial package.

The property is currently valued at $158,500, according to the Polk County assessor. When the improvements are completed, the property is expected to be valued at over $1.6 million, according to information provided to city officials.