YOUNKERS HISTORIANS: What Made It So Special?

The Younkers fire has led to a busy week on a Facebook site called “Lost Des Moines.”

There, historians and others have been sharing their stories and photos about why it is this building was so special.

“What a tragic loss,” signs Sophie Pargas Vlassis.

Outsiders no doubt wonder why almost a week later, there are those still lamenting.

“You know, to me it was a crown jewel,” she adds.

Vlassis’s connection couldn’t have been more personal.

“They trusted my dad enough to let him open up a business in their store.”

Younkers gave her Greek immigrant father, Harry, a chance at his dream. He gave them 47 years of service.

Like the work of a dead artist, the surviving stories and pieces of the Younkers building have suddenly soared in value.

“It was sold at Younkers in the mezzanine,” says historian, Pat Meiners, of a 1920’s music program sold at the downtown Younkers.

Like Vlassis, Meiners has spent much of the past week going over her mementos.

“Here’s a nice little mink hat that I have with the Younkers logo that has the state of Iowa behind it, so they did kind of cherish Iowa as their home.”

The thing is, the building was supposed to be one of the pieces that survived. Its renovation was highly anticipated by historians like Kent Carlson.

“Between cost and taste and everything else, post-war architecture has gotten a lot simpler and a lot less interesting, and that was kind of the height of architecture,” he says.

Everyone seems to agree that the store was the height of many things.

“It represents a time when things were more genteel,” says Meiners.

“It was like a city of its own—like a village,” Vlassis adds.

“When you lose a building like that,” says Carlson, “it messes with the fabric of the town.”

It was a building, not a life. But to those with a sense of history, that loss severs one of the few connections left to the past and its people.

“You can see beautiful pictures, but you know what? I was able to feel it because I was there,” Vlassis says.