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Our Past is Your Future, Neumann Brothers Completes Des Moines Art Center in 1948

Friday, February 28, 2014

The “Our Past is Your Future” series will include articles attributed to historical news stories written about Neumann Brothers and the projects we have completed throughout the years. Our skills and resources from the past translate to what we can offer buyers of construction services today to make their projects a success.

Taken from: The Central Constructor, May 1948

June 2, 3 and 4 of 1948 marked the formal opening of the Des Moines Art Center built in Greenwood Park by the Edmundson Memorial Foundation. At the time of its opening it was the most important art museum in the country because it is a combination of the most advanced in design, construction, and use. Neumann Brothers continues to build with advanced design and construction today as seen in the structures of the Science Center of Iowa, Kemin Industries, and Grinnell College. The structure was a gift of James D. Edmundson to his fellow citizens of Des Moines and brought national recognition and attention to his native city. 

The building was designed by Saarinen and Swanson, Brooks Borg, Associated Architects, and is a masterpiece of beauty and practicality. The contract for the erection of the Art Center was awarded in 1946 to Arthur H. Neumann and Brothers of Des Moines. Although it was constructed through the tightest time the industry has known for getting labor and materials, work on the building was never interrupted for even a day. Tents were pitched and canvas covers used to keep the men and work warm so that progress could continue when the temperatures were as low as 5 degrees below zero. Fast track projects are still a specialty of Neumann Brothers today. With our field expertise and planning skills, Neumann Brothers takes the appropriate steps necessary to make sure every project is completed on time. Additionally, our ability to self-perform work when needed enables us to better control the work and ensure the owner will get their building on their schedule.

The Des Moines Art Center is composed of a ground floor of 21,964 square feet and a main floor of 20,364 square feet. The type of masonry used is most unusual in this part of the country and necessitated employment of skilled and experienced masons. The exterior walls are of refrigerator construction. They are constructed of 17 inches of brick and stone, two inches of insulation, and two layers of pine, one of 1 1/2 inches and the other 3/4 inch thick.

The exterior stone came from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and is known as lannan. When it is quarried, three to four feet of dirt must first be removed from the top of the rock bed. The lannan itself is then visible. Cracks four to six inches thick run all through the rock. Centuries of dirt, rain, freezing and thawing have combined to give a mellow look to the material. Surfaces next to the fissures and subjected to this weathering are of the warm and reddish-yellow hues, while the interior portions of the huge rock sections are of a gray cast and are more plentiful.

The question of getting materials always presented a major problem. Aluminum was used extensively throughout the structure as window sash, door frames, and stair rails which helped to produce a pleasing air of cleanliness and sturdiness. The doors came from Neenah, Wisconsin and were on order an entire year before any shipment was made.

The construction of the Art Center was a tremendous job. As the builder put it “Now that it’s all finished, it makes you just stop and wonder how it was ever possible to accomplish such a task!”

Neumann Brothers has taken the expertise and skills learned in the past and have continued working under the same principles and legacy today. With more than 100 years in business, Neumann Brothers demonstrates that quality construction is not a commodity.