The Observatory Building, also known as the Van Ginkel Building,[2] was a skyscraper located in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Standing at 197 ft tall (60 m) and heralded as "the tallest office building between Chicago and San Francisco" when opened on April 1, 1896, it was also the first skyscraper in Iowa.[1] Although it was the tallest office building, the Observatory Building was not the tallest building in Des Moines, the Iowa State Capitol, completed in 1884, was 275 ft tall (84 m).[3]

Observatory Building
General information
Location400 Locust Street,
Des Moines, Iowa,
United States
Coordinates41°35′12″N 93°37′22″W / 41.5867°N 93.6227°W / 41.5867; -93.6227
Construction started1895
OpeningApril 1, 1896
OwnerGerrit Van Ginkel
Roof197 ft (60 m)
Technical details
Floor count13 (including 4 story tower)
Design and construction
Architect(s)Charles Edward Eastman
Other information
Public transit accessBus interchange DART

With a look considered modern for its time, the building consisted of nine stories of office space, a rooftop garden including a 600-seat venue for outdoor performances, and a four-story observation tower, the distinctive feature which also gave the building its name. Electricity and gas lighting was provided to all tenants. Access to the tower was provided to paying customers for what was at the time an almost unique view of the city. The installation of a beacon that would shine over the city nightly added further to the buildings uniqueness.[1]

From its incorporation in 1896 until 1905 the head office of the Central Life Assurance Society of the United States was located in the Observatory Building. This company is still based in Des Moines today and now known as The Aviva Life and Annuity Company[4]

The building was eventually demolished during the latter half of 1937,[1] and this location is now occupied by Capital Square Mall.[2]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Korom Jr., Joseph J: ' 'The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940' ', pages 141-143, Branden Publishing Company, 2008
  2. ^ a b MCue, Craig & Playle, Ron: ' 'Des Moines, page 18, Arcadia Publishing, 2007
  3. ^ "STATE CAPITOL". State of Iowa. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  4. ^ "Aviva plc: Heritage: Companies: Aviva Life and Annuity Company". Retrieved 3 January 2009.