An historic building in downtown Des Moines was destroyed by an intense fire this weekend, damaging the exterior of two neighboring office towers and leaving shattered glass, soot and ashes strewn through a six-block area of the state’s capital city.
The iconic Younkers Department Store opened in downtown Des Moines in 1899. It was closed in 2005. The fire was reported early Saturday morning. Fire fighters made it to the fifth floor before retreating due to fierce flames and heavy smoke. The building’s floors were starting to collapse, but no one was killed or injured in the blaze.
The fire department was still pouring water on the smoldering remains of the building early Sunday. Crowds were kept away from the fire zone, as glass from broken windows on the EMC Insurance Building to the south and the office building to the north began to crash to the ground due to high winds. Portions of the EMC building’s exterior melted from the heat of the fire.
This week a team of federal investigators looking for the cause of the fire will sift through what remains of the eight-story building.
The first “electric stairs” in the state — what we now call escalators — were installed in the Younkers building and its once-elegant “Tea Room” handed out wrapped gifts to children who dined there with their parents, but after 105 years at the location, the Younkers store closed nearly a decade ago. The empty building was undergoing a 37-million dollar renovation project, being converted into condos and retail space.
Three brothers who were Polish immigrants opened the first Younkers store in Keokuk in 1858.