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Transformation Bringing New Life for Site of Former Des Moines Church

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DES MOINES, Iowa — At a time of social distancing, neighbors got as close as they could to the old stone structure at 3750 Grand Avenue.

DES MOINES, Iowa — At a time of social distancing, neighbors got as close as they could to the old stone structure at 3750 Grand Avenue.

“We’re holding our breath, I think,” said Kathy Soppe, who lives nearby.

After 90 years in stone, the old place on Grand coming un-set.

“It was a bit further gone than most churches are,” said Bryan Myers, of Neumann Brothers Builders.

Still, this is a match for this crew.

“Some of these walls are two and three feet thick,” Myers added.

The First Church of Christ Scientist relocated to a modest space in West Des Moines ten years ago. Nationally, the church has lost more than 50% of its membership since 1990 and needed to sell but the process was long.

“It’s rough to get that type of open space to be re-used for general public,” Myers admitted.

This will be a bit of an exception. The east and west wings will stay and become part of the new 8-story condominium going up here.

“We’ve also taken out quite a bit of the stained glass,” Myers said, “we’ve taken out some of the doors. So we’re gonna try to reuse as many of those interesting characteristics as we can back into the building.”

Those around here like the sound of that.

“I’m glad they’re using some of the historical aspects in the new construction,” said Soppe as she watched from behind the chain-link fence. “I think that’s great.”

“I love the idea of saving parts of it,” said Robbi Howard, also of Neumann Brothers. “That’s what should happen.”

Howard is the superintendent of the project, and this is a labor of love.

“I delivered papers in this area 50 years ago,” he remembered. “And there’s people I went to school with here. This area brings back a lot of memories for me.”

“It looks like they’re moving!” cried out another neighbor, watching the crews.

All eyes to the heavens as the tallest crane you’ve ever seen lashes onto the iconic spire. Clad in copper, and strengthened by steel.

“The mechanics behind it are kind of interesting because no one really knows how it’s put together,” said Howard. “It’s gonna be a challenge for us.”

It is a challenge. It takes some three hours to figure out just how to cut the spire loose, then lift it off its perch.

“That spire is 50 feet tall, and we’re gonna reuse the top half of it,” said Myers.

It’ll be a featured piece on the grounds of the new development.

And maybe that helps.

“I think it’s always sad to see a piece of history go,” said Soppe, “and a church is that much more meaningful.”

It went up during the Depression and comes down in a pandemic. In between, it was there for its people and in a sense — that won’t change.