Gongol.com Archives: May 2022

Brian Gongol

May 23, 2022

Iowa Americans know when to knock down the old and put up the new

For many years, a quaint local hardware store stood in an old brick building at the corner of East 30th and Walnut in Des Moines -- just to the west of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The fittingly-named Fairground Hardware closed in 2018 and the building has stood vacant ever since. ■ Despite last-ditch efforts by some to try to salvage the vacant building by getting it named as a landmark, the building is now merely a fresh pile of rubble. ■ To cheer its demolition isn't an act of malice -- it's merely the American thing to do. Americans know, far better than those in many other cultures, when to tear down the old and put up the new. This distinguishes us from, for example, the British affinity for old stones, prominently advocated by Prince Charles and his fetish for "traditional" buildings. ■ There will always be landmarks worth treasuring, to be sure. But a dynamic economy -- and a dynamic society -- need to be unafraid to demolish the old when there is more value to be had in starting anew. There is no shame in that. In fact, it deserves to be a point of honor. ■ Certain things are worth keeping in good condition, and others are well worth the investment to rehabilitate. But those things only hold true if it is possible to achieve a higher level of value without spending more than value that would be preserved. Lots of buildings grow old, but only a few are authentically worth preserving at high cost. And even then, a place must justify itself to the present to be worth preserving from the past. ■ The Fairgrounds are busy much of the year, and it's likely that something new in the spot now occupied by a demolished pile of bricks will add new value to the area. There is only one hotel adjacent to the Fairgrounds, and only a couple of spots for dining and retail. ■ When something new goes in, it will have to pass the owner's test of profitability, and that means a likely infusion of vitality into the area. That's good for the neighborhood, good for the property tax base of the city, and almost certainly good for the symbiosis of the Fairgrounds. Maybe it will even contain a few token bricks from the old building. But even if it does not, we shouldn't mourn the disposal of a dilapidated old building. The future doesn't have to live in the habitats of the past.

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