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State Historical Building

Quick Facts

Building Name, Address:

State Historical Building, 
600 East Locust Street, Des Moines

Primary Occupants:

Department of Cultural Affairs, State Historical Society

Years Constructed:

1984 (Groundbreaking ceremony held Dec. 7, 1984) - 1987 (Officially opened on Dec. 11, 1987)

Designers & Builders:

Brown, Healy and Bock of Cedar Rapids, IA


Perhaps no other building on the Capitol Complex was as long or eagerly awaited as the new State Historical Building. The turn-of-the-century Ola Babcock Miller Building served as the first historical museum, but as early as 1918 it was recognized that an expansion was needed. The current Historical Building opened in December 1987. More than 80,000 visitors were recorded in the first six weeks.

The 1977-78 Legislature appropriated $25,000 to the Capitol Planning Commission for preliminary planning for a new Historical Museum and a recommendation for future use of the old building.

Discussion and planning for the new facility took a big step toward in 1982 when a road builder, Glenn "Grover" Herrick, left about $5 million to the State of Iowa in his will. Mr. Herrick had specified that the funds were to be used "for the purchase or construction of one or more public improvements of relative permanence," with the Governor and the legislature deciding how the funds were specifically allocated. A Governor-appointed committee decided the entire $5 million should go toward the new historical museum.

Encouraged by this generous bequest, the Governor included an additional $10 million for the project in his 1983-84 budget, which the legislature appropriated. The Iowa Historical Museum Foundation was established to raise the remaining needed funds. By the time of its completion, the Historical Building was a $26-million project. It is the only building on the Capitol Complex built in part with private funding. The two main exhibit galleries in the museum are named for Mr. Herrick.

There was much debate regarding where to locate the new historical building. Originally, planners envisioned a structure on the south side of the Capitol Complex that would be bermed (built into the hillside and therefore mostly underground), with an entrance on Court Avenue. The City of Des Moines approached the State with an idea to place the museum to the west of the Capitol, on the eastern side of downtown. City leaders argued that this would spur development in that part of the city. The Capitol Planning Commission and the Legislature would eventually agree with this plan, and now the State Historical Building is in the heart of Des Moines' blossoming East Village District.

Green Features

  • 100% efficient electric boilers
  • Heat pump heat recovery
  • Air Handling Unit (AHU) economizers
  • Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) on all AHU fans
  • Lighting schedules and Air Handling Unit (AHU) occupied/unoccupied schedules are programmed through the building automation system
  • Fluorescent lighting upgraded to efficient T-8 lamps with electronic ballasts
  • Incandescent bulbs replaced with energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps and LEDs
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Display cases on the first floor of the State Historical Building.

Photo by: Quality Automation Graphics

Looking at the Capitol through the State Historical Building's skylights.

Photo by: Quality Automation Graphics

Main stairway in the atrium of the State Historical Building.

Photo by: Quality Automation Graphics