Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


About the Neighborhood

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:


The Union Park Neighborhood has an active neighborhood association, which I’ll be joining. Their website is here: http://www.unionparkdsm.com

I’m a dedicated east sider. Sure, it has its problems, but the east side of Des Moines also has some of the richest community history, and some of the nicest, most neighborly people in the whole city. Roots grow deep here, whether they’re on the trees in Union Park or in the families that have lived here for generations. I’m so happy to be returning to my roots. Both my parents grew up just blocks away from our new old house so the neighborhood holds lots of good memories and neighborly connections for us.

Here is some history about other houses I know in the area:

The house my mom’s parents live in, for example, which is four doors down from mine, was built in 1905 and is a traditional Queen Anne style. The man who built her house later built a smaller, but in my opinion, more elegant house next door for his brother and his family. That house is a bungalow, and while they share similarities on the inside (same style of woodwork and hardware on the doors, same style of banister) the second house is very different from the first.

There are a couple houses across the street that were built at the same time and share the same floorplan. My grandparents actually lived in one of those smaller bungalows before they had more kids and moved across the street into the five bedroom Victorian. I absolutely LOVE those houses. They have cute brick front porches, dormer windows, and a really cozy, welcoming floorplan inside that just feels so homey. I was friends with an old lady who lived in one of those houses. She had a cute little fluffy white dog, and she also had the sharpest eye for finding four leaf clovers. She could find handfuls of them out in her yard! I’d look and look for them with her in exactly the same spots but I’d never find any.

The house my dad grew up in is one block north of my new house. My great grandfather, Raleigh Franklin, designed the house from a collection of floor plans. He was an architectural engineer, so it was a piece of cake for him to put together all the pieces of the other floorplans he liked into a really great little house. Incidentally, that house has exactly the same layout as mine, but about five feet bigger in all directions. I think he built that house in 1923 or 24, right after he got back from serving in WWI. My grandmother was born shortly after they moved in. She lived there almost her whole life. When she and my grandfather married (just after WWII) they got their own little apartment, but moved in with her mother when her father died. My grandma’s grandma died in that house while they lived there. When her father, Raleigh, who had never been good with money, died my grandparents bought the house and raised their children (my dad’s generation) there. When they retired to the house they built in Clear Lake in the 80s, my Aunt Nancy, their youngest daughter, lived in the house. Sometime in the early 90s, the house next door exploded (faulty gas line to the dryer) and the impact shook our family’s house a few inches off its foundation. The damage wasn’t severe, but the stresses of maintaining an older house were getting to be too much for my “do-it-yourself” grandpa, so they sold the house shortly after.

I’ve been doing some research at the public library about the history of this neighborhood and the possibility of discovering more about who built my house and who lived in it before us.

I’ve found the name F.F. Frost in several sources naming him as a great builder of bungalows in Des Moines. Here’s what one source says:

“F.F. Frost was ‘one of the largest Des Moines dealers in small home properties…’ Frost reported that he had sold 100 new homes between January and the end of April [of 1918-the year my house was built]. His April 1 inventory of 41 homes was reduced to two by month’s end, all selling for $1,600 to $1,850. Frost was constructing a house a day in an effort to keep up with demand. His market was ‘mechanics and other workingmen in the receipt of good wages.’ These workers were enjoying steady employment and the difference in wages offset the increased cost of living.” (p. 46, Jacobson)

Our house is in a district listed by Jacobson as one recommended for further investigation and intensive survey. Here’s the data from his chart:

Map Reference: K-22

Block References: 201-10, 21925, 322

Boundaries: south and east of Union Park, E. 14th as east boundary, E. Guthrie to E. Washington Ave.

Title, Related Neighborhood Group, District Viability: Union Park Addition, some of best foursquares and bungalows in city

(Jacobson, p. 168)

“The Union Park Addition, a mile south and east of Campus Town offered many high-end amenities but its advertisement took pains to appeal to the speculative buyer. The future builder was advised ‘Even though you are not going to build this year, you should take advantage of this present price. Lots in good neighborhood[s] with building restrictions and unusual natural advantages constantly increase in value.’ Residents there could enjoy Union Park with its ‘fresh air, mineral springs, and broad expanse of trees and grass’ (Des Moines Register, April 16, 1911). Within a year thirty substantial homes were being constructed (Ibid., August 4, 1912).” (Jacobson, p. 252)

About the North Central Residential District:

“This district includes land on either side of the Des Moines River located east of present-day Martin Luther King Parkway, north of University Avenue, and west of E. 14th Street. This fairly arbitrary boundary includes a heterogeneous range of neighborhoods. The western portion is a mix of early city and almost unpopulated areas along the river. On the East Side, it includes Highland Park and Union Park, principal suburbs on that side of the river. Most of the subdivision activity in this district took place north of Euclid and Douglas and south and east toward Union Park and Grand View College.” (p. 250)

Data from the accompanying table:

Subdivision: Union Park

Owner/Agent: Union Realty Co.

Location: Union Park

Date First Marketed: 4-16-11

# of Lots: ?

Lot size: ?

Lot cost: ?

Terms of payment: $10 down, $10 mo. @ 6%

Building restrictions: 62 houses erected spring ’11 to Aug. 1912, value $3-6,000 set back, restrictions

(p. 250)


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.

[tags]neighborhood history, obituaries, genealogy, old houses, Union Park, Des Moines, Iowa[/tags]

Information about the Whittier school at the corner of E. 14th and Washington

Photos of other houses in this neighborhood in the 1940s

A house on E. 12th St.

A house on York St.