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The Corner of Green & Main


A Des Moines Visionary Builds a Model
for Preservation, Conservation, and Choice

Story by Linda Mason Hunter, images provided by Indigo Dawn/Silent Rivers Design+Build

A nation that forgets
its past has no future

— Winston Churchill (1874–1965)

Chaden Halfhill stood on a shady Des Moines residential street in 2005, looking across at a lone, boarded-up, decrepit commercial building.

The circa-1915 structure’s modern features included peeling paint, dark wall paneling from the ’60s, a drop ceiling from the ’70s, and electrical and plumbing systems as old as the building itself.

An absence of gutters had allowed water for years to seep through the foundation into the basement, polluting the air with a pungent, musty smell.

“It was a rundown, neglected, leaky old building held together with mediocre repairs — a far cry from anything anyone with sense would be interested in owning,” Halfhill recalls with a laugh.

Still, the bones were good, he surmised, the general structure sound. He pondered the possibilities for months before actually purchasing the dilapidated property for less than $95,000.

Halfhill, a former sculptor turned green builder and owner of Silent Rivers Design + Build and Indigo Dawn Development, christened it the “Green & Main Pilot Project,” for it would become, he imagined, a model — a 21st-century bricks-and-mortar manual, a paradigm-shifting set of best practices marrying historical preservation, sustainable design, and community connection.

The Heritage of Place

When Lloyd K. Hulett opened the first self-serve grocery store in the capital city’s bustling Sherman Hill district in 1933, he understood the formula for commercial success.

The location was ideal — on a streetcar line in a walking neighborhood near its busiest intersection. Sitting on the corner of 19th and Center Streets, the sturdy 5,000-square-foot masonry building had a wide entrance, a cavernous basement excellent for storage, an open 1,600-square-foot room at street level, and three pint-size rental apartments upstairs.

(Read more Green & Main)

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