The Mysterious Log Cabin Room at Hotel Fort Des Moines

The developers of the currently closed Hotel Fort Des Moines have recently obtained a significant amount of tax increment financing which should help with a renovation that is scheduled to begin in 2016.  The hotel was built in 1917 and was probably the largest and most dramatic hotel in Des Moines until time and an only partly successful attempt to make it into a convention hotel marked its slow demise. The new owners have promised to bring back its glory.  One question some have is whether the historic “Log Cabin” room will survive the renovation. I decided to look into the history and current status of the “Log Cabin” room and to find out what remains of this room.

As background, the Des Moines Register reported in a retrospective article that “In 1939, the police liquor squad raided the Log Cabin room on the 11th floor, arresting 128 men and four women and confiscating 10 bottles of liquor and some gambling equipment. The tip came from some of the men’s wives.” Further research suggests that this room was the focus of quite a number of police raids back in the day.

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What survives today? The Log Cabin room is tucked away in the northwest corner of the hotel. The area is entered through a door that opens into a fairly large suite of what is now empty but temporary and ramshackle office space — the sort that is leased by Presidential campaigns. There is no remaining evidence of a log cabin room in this office space area. To you left is a small kitchen decked out in wood planking. This is the only section that could even remotely be said to have a “log cabin” theme. However, the kitchen is fairly small, and certainly cannot hold 128 men, women, angry policemen, gambling equipment, and liquor. I have learned that what people now call the Log Cabin room is just the kitchen to the hotel manager’s personal apartment.  The rest of the apartment must have been decked out with the same pine plank walls back in the day. I used to own a 1930s home that had a second floor decked out in knotty pine, so I can attest that this was a popular decorating choice for that era. Is it the same pine theme for which the room was famous?  I don’t know. The appliances seemed to date to various renovation campaigns from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’80s, so it is hard to know if the cabinets and walls are original.

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What I also learned is that the manager of the hotel at that time discovered that the busy operations of the hotel were a perfect cover for a lucrative gambling and un-permitted liquor operation (prohibition had ended in Iowa several years prior).  People could come and go without drawing attention to the booming gambling operation.

The bottom line is that there does not appear to be much left of the old “Log Cabin” room at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, and the rest of the suite would appear to need significant upgrades to bring it into the new century as a useful place.

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