Barbershop / Office Project

Historic Rehabilitation in the Woodland Heights Neighborhood

Sequel Architecture is excited to have been selected by the City  to redevelop this vacant historic building as our future office!   Follow the historic rehabilitation project here through late-October 2023 when we hope to have the GRAND OPENING!

Questions or Concerns? Email us!

Recent update (August 21, 2023): Exterior rehabilitation and painting is pushing towards completion. In the midst of the excessive heat, we are working on the interior to insulate and install drywall – PLUS getting the air conditioner up and running. Within the next couple weeks we will start prepping for the floor refinishing, trimout, and cabinet/counter install.

Grefe Grocery

This small, unassuming building was originally constructed in 1913 as “Grefe Grocery”.   Hellen O. Wilkin purchased the business in the early 1920’s and then sold it just a few years later to the then-manager, Neil Sanford Landess.  Upon Neil’s death, his son Paul L. Landess took over operation of the store. Paul, like his father, owned the store until he passed away in 1963.

The property went through probate and sat vacant for a few years before it was purchased by Harlan and Bill Thomas.

Harlan and Bill’s Imperial Styles Barbershop

The building was eventually sold to Harlan H. Thomas and William H. Thomas who remodeled the building into a barbershop.  Harlan Thomas had been cutting hair since his early 20s (his mom was also a stylist). He graduated near the top of his state barber certification course and became known as a premier barber, traveling throughout Iowa and further to cut Black hair in a time when it was a generally segregated profession.

In 1988, Mr. Thomas was called to the Savery Hotel to trim the Jesse Jackson’s hair while the Reverend was in town campaigning for president.

As a fixture in the jazz and blues music scene on Center Street and a member of the Soul Brothers band (and later the Platinum Blues Band), Harlan Thomas’ involvement in the music community meant that the barbershop also served as a social hub centered around music. Harlan Thomas was honored as a 1999 inductee into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame.

“Sweet Home Chicago” – Harlan Thomas
“Hound Dog” – Harlan Thomas
“Mustang Sally” – Harlan Thomas
“My Girl” – Harlan Thomas
“Stormy Monday Blues” – Harlan Thomas

Mr. Thomas was generous to give us a CD produced just a few years ago with some solo work!

He is not performing live anymore, so if you listen and want to send a “virtual tip” to Mr. Thomas, we are collecting via Venmo and will forward to him!

Your support is appreciated.

The barbershop remained in operation for 47 years until closing circa 2015. A large building assessment for public improvements to the sewer system caused Mr. Thomas to close the shop at that time.

Recently, Mr. Thomas visited the barbershop building and shared some stories with us about the days when Saturday mornings meant people lining up down the block for one of his famous cuts!

Historic Landmark Status

We have been working with Kelli Lydon Research Services to uncover the building’s history and significance to the City of Des Moines. On Monday, March 6, 2023, we completed the final step to designate the building as a Local Landmark.

Local Landmark status does three things:

  • Documents in the public record the story of the building and the people who are associated with it.
  • Helps ensure that the building is treated with sensitivity and respect long into the future
  • Make the building eligible for various assistance to help with historic rehabilitation work

The project recently received “Part 1” approval from the state for Historic Tax Credits to help defray the substantial cost of rehabilitation.

Telling the STORY

Accomplished Des Moines artist, Jill Wells Art, is working on an installation/artwork piece that tells the Barbershop story. The awesome Janae Patrice Photography is collaborating on images and social media for this project.

ARTIST WEBSITE (link to the Barbershop project on Jill Wells Art).

The project incorporates paneling salvaged from the barbershop walls. A black scale color palette will focus on the beauty of Blackness. The work will incorporate quotations, names, and comments from patrons and friends representing black community members, patrons of the barbershop, the Thomas family, and the shop itself.

The work will be unveiled at the ribbon cutting!

What are the PLANS?

Sequel Architecture is a small architecture firm (currently two full-time and two part-time remote employees) with a focus on historic rehabilitation, sensitive urban infill, and other creative impactful work. We will be undertaking a sensitive remodel of this humble but contextually significant building for our permanent office location.

At 600 square feet, it’s just big enough for four desks, a small conference table, a kitchenette, and an accessible restroom.