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The Rehabbers Club requests your opinion


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Like any city, Des Moines needs a checkbook in one hand and a hammer in the other if it wants to keep from falling apart. Halfway in between, it needs a conscience, and that’s where the Des Moines Rehabbers Club comes in.

It’s an informal group that runs on e-mails and house tours, and at this point probably has little more clout than a random group of commuters on a DART bus. But the participants have an interest in history and architecture, plus the ability to notice problems and point them out, which is so often the key to any project.

Nominations are due by 5 p.m. Wednesday for the Rehabbers’ second annual list of “Des Moines’ Most Endangered Buildings.” That will be followed by a month of online voting by you, the public.

“The idea behind the list,” said group founder Steve Wilke-Shapiro, “is to promote public discussion about what buildings are worth saving and why; what do we gain from reusing historic buildings versus tearing them down and building new.”

Wilke-Shapiro brought the concept here from St. Louis, where he was part of a group devoted to preserving good works from the past. “When I moved here, I was looking for a similar group,” he said. “I couldn’t find one, and I thought, ‘What a great opportunity.'”

The Des Moines group got started just two years ago. About 115 people are on the e-mail list, and somewhere between 15 and 50 show up for the monthly house tours.

It’s nice to know they’ve found one another, but also good to see that they don’t agree on everything. Go to www.renovatedsm.com, check out the 2008 list and you’ll find a clear difference of opinion about whether the house at 692 17th St. in Sherman Hill is something to be lovingly rehabilitated or a hopeless dump.

Also on last year’s list were the service station then located at 203 E. Grand Ave., the former East Woodlawn School at 2930 Euclid Ave., a house at 1021 26th St., Rose Manor at 620 Scott Ave., the Kingsway Cathedral at 901 19th St. and the former officers’ quarters at Fort Des Moines.

The service station was relocated and the cathedral is being renovated. The rest “have stayed in the same condition or deteriorated,” Wilke-Shapiro noted.

Unfortunately, the Rehabbers Club’s influence ends with the posting of the list. There’s no money for buying buildings or commissioning rehabs.

After the 2008 list made its modest splash, “a relatively decent amount of people contacted me and asked who they should contact” about saving buildings, Wilke-Shapiro said. “I tried to make connections between interested people and owners.”

Wilke-Shapiro knew as a high school kid in Ames that he wanted to be involved with architecture. He attended college at Washington University in St. Louis, eventually receiving master’s degrees in architecture and social work.

He followed that with 14 years of design work with home builders and architects in that city.

He was working for Neighborhood Finance Corp. here in Des Moines until recently, but no longer. He’s looking for work at the same time he’s looking for building nominations.

“Several buildings that were nominated last year have been renominated,” Wilke-Shapiro said. No doubt many of the voters are “people who pass a building every day and see it deteriorating,” he said.

“Some people who are keyed into renovation begin to get attached to those buildings, even though they don’t have an actual connection.”

Hey, if you live here, that’s connection enough.

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