Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


About Our House

I’m compiling information from the city directories, newspapers, and other library sources to get a more complete story of the neighborhood and my house. Here is a link to a PDF of my data as of 1/8/08:

Data from Des Moines City Directories

Obituaries as of 1/9/08:


Our house is a Craftsman bungalow built in 1918. The owner we bought it from had lived there since 1964. It seems that was the last time the house was updated, in the 60s.

Once I get the abstract with the detailed ownership history, I’ll do some research on the original owners of the house. For now, here’s what I know about the most recent owners, the Rileys:

Marilyn and Fred Riley moved into the house in 1964. Fred had served in WWII (not sure what branch.) They had one daughter. She died sometime in the 70s or 80s I believe. Fred Riley died about five years ago. Marilyn had been living in the house by herself after Fred’s death, but when her back problems and general health were declining, she moved into a nearby assisted living apartment.

Mrs. Riley is an artist. When my mom was a teenager, living four doors down on York St., Mrs. Riley would take my mom with her to the Art Center to take drawing and painting classes. Apparently, Mrs. Riley did a drawing of my mom as a sixteen year old for one of these classes. She gave my mom the drawing as a gift. Somehow I vaguely think I’ve seen that drawing, but mom says she gave it to one of her brothers or sisters a long time ago. One of them may still have it. Mrs. Riley used the front bedroom as her art studio in her later years of living there. She and Fred had slept in the back bedroom, for what must have been their whole lives there, judging by the wear marks in the 60s-era carpet. It looks like the bed was always in the same place right up until the time Mrs. Riley moved out last year.

One of my uncles who grew up in the house down the street from Mrs. Riley remembers she was in the Des Moines Register once because she was an avid squirrel feeder. I think they called her “The Squirrel Lady” or something. I’ll try to find that article when I start researching in the Des Moines Register archives.

After Mrs. Riley moved out, my grandmother kept in touch with her and drove her to her doctor’s appointments every week. When my grandma found out that we were looking for a house in Des Moines, she told us that Mrs. Riley was still trying to sell her house. She borrowed the key for us and we got to look around. We took that opportunity to have some family friends who have experience fixing up old houses look around it with us. We found lots of obvious problems, a few recent repairs, and a need for some serious cleaning, but everybody we asked to look at the house said that “the bones are good.” “It’s square, plum, and level, and that’s what you gotta look for,” said one. My grandfather judges a house by how much the floors squeak, and he only found one spot in the whole house with a squeak.

While we were waiting for Mrs. Riley, her attorney, and her neice who would be taking power of attorney to get their things in order, we got in touch with a realtor to have him show us more houses in the area so we could compare, learn about the market, and make sure we got just the right house for our first big project. I called a ReMax agent I found in the real estate pages of the Des Moines Register and made an appointment. The guy’s name was Ryan Rivera. I knew that somewhere out there I had a cousin named Ryan Rivera, but I figured it was a pretty common name around here, so it might or might not be my cousin. I have a HUGE family and we often lose touch with cousins for 10 years or more and that was the case here, so I honestly didn’t know if I’d even recognize him as my cousin if he was. Anyway, Brandon and I went to the appointment and Ryan looked like he COULD be a relative of mine, but I still wasn’t sure until he mentioned that he and his wife were expecting a son in a few months and they planned to name him Sebastian. Sebastian Rivera was my great grandfather who came to Des Moines in the early 1920s. He was the start of our huge family in Des Moines, and ever since his death in the mid 1980s, Sebastian has been a popular name to give the boys in our family, most commonly as a middle name. I stopped Ryan right there and announced, “Ryan, I think you’re my cousin.” We got our family tree straightened out and figured out just how we are connected and Ryan became my realtor as well as my long lost cousin.

Ryan showed us some other houses in the area. He toured them with us and when we found one problem after another in these other houses that were just too much for us to take on, we finally decided to go with the house on York Street. By that time Mrs. Riley’s neice had gotten all the paperwork taken care of and with Ryan helping us on one end and our mortgage originator, Linda Turner (at Independent Mortgage) helping us on the other end, we were able to purchase the house in a little under a month.

I’ve been doing some research about bungalows in Des Moines and here’s what I’ve found:

In his study, Historical Residential Architecture in Des Moines 1905-1940, James Jacobson identifies six bungalow subtypes that are prevalent in Des Moines. Mine falls into subtype D, the front gable with partly integral non-full-width, offset front porch. Jacobson says, “This is the second largest bungalow sub-group, accounting for just over 22 percent of all bungalows in the city, or 1,593 houses. This subtype tends to be more favored on the East Side where eight survey areas identified 50 or more of these houses. Just one West Side survey area had that many (immediately east of Glendale Cemetery). The East Side concentrations are solidly distributed in a southeast arc which runs from Highland Park to Union Park, and a concentrated area west of the Fairgrounds.” He describes the house as a “narrow rectangle, expandable to square… one story to one and half story… gable roofed porch is predominant, always offset on facade with outer roof plane a continuation of main roof plane. Porch is always less than full width… Can have gabled sidewing that projects behind the line of the main facade.” (p. 145-146)

One company that built bungalows in my area was John C. Rehmann & Co., phone number Walnut 3178, address 413 Flynn Bldg. Here is the text from an ad shown in Jacobson’s book: “If you can pay $350 down you can pay for the balance and own this house on payments of $30 per month. This house is new, well built, conveniently arranged and just being finished. It will be ready to move into the last of next week. We have several new 5 & 6 room modern houses, 1 1/2 blocks from Union Park, 1 block to E. 6th and 9th street car. Prices range from $3,450 to $3,900. May we show them to you? Our office will be open today.” (p. 146)

On p. 174, Figure XXXXIIIe: Bungalow Built-Ins shows a drawing of a fireplace and built in bookshelves that look exactly like what is in my house. The figure comes from Henry Wilson’s The Bungalow Book, Chicago, 1910. I’d like to find that book and see what other features I find, and maybe figure out what the cabinets in the dining room might have looked like.


Jacobson, James. Historical Residential Architecture in Des Moines, 1905-1940; A Study of Two House Types, the Bungalow and the Square House. Des Moines: City Council of Des Moines, 1997.

Future Plans and Ideas:

Todd offers lots of good advice on his page: http://www.homeconstructionimprovement.com/

Information on how to patch holes in plaster walls:



An example of cabinet doors I’d like: http://www.glass-by-design.com/abstract26x2.htm

Check this site for cabinet doors: https://www.historichouseparts.com/vintage_cabinet_doors.htm

My coworker says to use a half and half mix of water and Downy fabric softener in a spray bottle to get wallpaper to come off the walls.

Some resources on how to deal with lead paint:



A great resource for any DIYer: http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/oldhouse/?499

[tags]Craftsman, bungalow, obituaries, Des Moines, city directories, home improvement, genealogy, wallpaper, lead paint[/tags]