SIMPLE TIMES: Younkers Building A Symbol

The old Younkers building at 701 Walnut was one of the city’s symbols of a simpler time.

It was a time when Christmas decorations attracted the masses and Saturdays were best spent with family over lunch and a couple of tea.

“We’d have cinnamon rolls and we’d have chicken salad, and my mom would tell us stories about when my dad used to work downtown,” said Debbie Jetmund.

“People would return from Des Moines and the first place they wanted to visit was the Younkers Tea Room,” said Paul Whitmore.

It was a time when a hard day’s work netted you pocket change, which wasn’t bad money for a student.

“I worked there when I was in high school,” said Sherry Baker.

“As I was talking to my sister this morning that also lives in Des Moines, she worked there when she was 16. She got paid 75 cents per hour,” said Jetmund.

Of course, there were other perks to working at the Iowa landmark.

It was the first building in the state to install an escalator, or better yet, a set of electric stairs.

“As you’d be going, you’d here this dinging sound as you were going up the escalator,” Jetmund told Channel 13 News.

The building stood proudly for 114 years, but in a matter of hours came crashing to the ground Saturday littering the street below with piles of steel and ash.

Plans to renovate the building into apartments and retail space are now on hold.

“I think it would have brought people downtown if they got it fixed up,” said Baker.

Getting it fixed up is exactly what those who knew it best are hoping for.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now, but I hope they rebuild,” said Whitmore.

The original location was built in Keokuk in 1856.

It closed in 1879 making way for a move to Des Moines.

It was also the first store in Des Moines to hire female clerks.

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