Why have I never explored this northeast Des Moines neighborhood at the intersection of Euclid and 6th Avenues in the 30 years I’ve lived here? I’ve driven past it and admired the oddly elegant façade of French Way Cleaners and Dryers (cq) — a 1916 light-brown brick two-story building with concrete trumpeters perched high atop brick columns ushering people into what was originally a dry cleaners (now-closed; what’s in there now? photos here; more details below) — and the Jetsons-style retro sign arching over the main drag (not sure if/where Oak Park and Highland Park diverge).
Yesterday, I was finally lured there after hearing about Des Moines Mercantile, a lovely, carefully-curated gift shop with an emphasis on Iowa made products – creamy beeswax candles shaped like morel mushrooms, woolen blankets from the Amana Colonies, all manner of Des Moines-made cards, hand towels, t-shirts, flags. There are also items from beyond item including a small children’s book selection that had the exact book that has been on my list for my grandson (so why not buy it here?!).
I dropped in at Hiland Bakery, which has been around since the 1940s, famed for its doughnuts. My first visit. It is a nice mix of old school bakery, with donuts, some with pastel-colored frosting, displayed in a glass case, and contemporary coffee shop, which I gather is newer, with local art hanging on exposed brick walls. There’s a hipster-looking coffee cafe next door too.
Stepping into the oddly named Tesoro Casegoods and Oddities was like walking into my parents living room in Michigan during the 1960s and 1970s. (Casegoods, I learned, refers to furniture made of hard materials, such as wood, metal, glass or plastic including chests, dressers, bookshelves, and cabinets.) The place is full of mid-century modern furniture – very expensive, sadly – by the likes of Knoll and Saarinen. Very fun to tour. Jenny’s Attic, a flea shop nearby, was more in my price range. I bought two vintage table cloths for a total of $8. Quite the contrast to the roomy display at Testones, Jenny’s Attic is a rabbit warren of cluttered shelves and smells like the smoke from the proprietor’s pipe, which he was puffing on as he rang up – or more accurately, typed in – my big purchase.
Here’s what The Society of Architectural Historians says about the French Way building: This exotic Prairie-school building has all the appearance of a bank building rather than a dry-cleaning establishment. Two brick piers break up the front, and they rise to form bases for a pair of stone figures of enthroned horn players. Balanced above and to the side of each player are large globe lights. To the sides and between the players are stone light standards in forms that almost look like fishes. The sculptural figures and light standards were produced by the local stone firm of Rowot.