DES MOINES, Iowa – A lot can happen in 100-plus years.
From 1903 to 1910, The Weitz Company built Fort Des Moines – where African-American men were first trained and commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army. Fast forward 108 years to today and Weitz is renovating the same structures that have endured 432 seasons of sun, rain and snow into multi-unit residential apartments.
The first 40 units of this historic renovation were turned over to developer Blackbird Investments on May 31, five months before substantial completion. The remaining 102 units will be delivered in three additional phases leading up to the project’s scheduled completion date in October.
“We understand the success of this project is giving families a place they can be proud to call home,” said Kassi Colman, project manager for The Weitz Company. “Safely turning over units in phases ahead of our planned completion is making that project goal a reality sooner rather than later.”
Together, Weitz and Blackbird are giving the Fort new life while maintaining the original details that made it recognizable. Although over half of the windows were replaced, the original, large front windows The Weitz Company installed in the early 1900s will remain. The signature bright, red brick has also be preserved – albeit repaired in some places – as were the hardwood floors and plaster on many of the walls. The 13-acre site housed seven barracks and three stables, which serve as the buildings for the 142 apartments that will feature exposed brick; ample light from the large windows; geothermal heating and cooling; and exposed timber framing.
“This project is much more complex than meets the eye. It required a tremendous amount of diligence to manage the overall budget given Blackbird’s goal to maintain the historic fabric of the buildings and show off the original building materials,” said The Weitz Company Executive Vice President & General Manager Mike Tousley.
Also used as a U.S. Army service training base for women to join the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, Fort Des Moines was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974. But many of the buildings were abandoned in the 1980s before closing in 2008 when the Des Moines Military Entrance Processing Station moved into a new facility at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa.
“Fort Des Moines has been a fixture of the south side of Des Moines for over a century,” said Blackbird Investments Partner Harry Doyle. “Discussions of the Fort evoke strong emotions; serving as the first place both black and women officers were trained, as well as the singular place of deployment during the Vietnam War era for the state of Iowa. Blackbird Investments is proud to preserve this portion of our nation and state’s history and to give these beautiful buildings a new lease on life.”