The Neighborhood

The Drake neighborhood has a larger population than 22 of the 99 counties in Iowa. The size of the neighborhood in terms of both population and geography present an interesting organizational challenge for the association. There are many types of people to represent and a lot of ground to cover to coordinate them. Because of it's size, the area is broken into 5 quintiles. (See map Below.)

The Drake neighborhood is home to a diverse range of races and ethnicities, income levels, and educational backgrounds. The challenge is for the Neighborhood Association to find ways to engage residents across the spectrum and to meet a broad range of needs. To maintain its diversity, the Drake neighborhood needs to continue to provide a range of housing opportunities, commercial venues, and recreational amenities.

Drake University helps to keep young adults in the neighborhood by drawing students, alumni, and others attracted to the vibrancy of a college atmosphere. 

The proximity and ease of access to downtown is another appealing factor. We have a large number of residents in their 20s and 30s. Young professionals are fixing up homes, settling in to an area they feel comfortable in, and exploring the city life. We also have people who have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and are loyal to the area and have found their own niche in the city.


Due to the population needs, proximity to Drake University, and location of business in the neighborhood and downtown, Drake has a high proportion of renter-occupied housing. A major asset of the Drake neighborhood is the historic housing stock. Homes within the Drake neighborhood have provided generations of residents with high quality housing in a variety of architectural styles. Common architectural styles in the neighborhood include: Queen Anne Victorians, American Four Squares, Craftsman Bungalows, Brick Tudors, among others.

The Drake neighborhood currently contains two National Register Historic Districts, Kingman Place and Drake University Campus along with more than 20 individually listed properties. Additionally, the Forestdale Plat and Iola Place have been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. These National Register listed districts and properties, as well as eligible districts have been identified through the work of various studies but there has not been a comprehensive historic and architectural survey of the Drake neighborhood.

Many larger homes were converted to multiple-unit flats between the 1920s and the 1950s to support the booming University population. The neighborhood also has a number of built-as multiple -family 

buildings and double-houses scattered throughout the neighborhood. The conversions are concentrated in the south and east parts of the neighborhood, and adjacent to 

Drake University. Over recent years, with city programs and targeted investment programs, some of these multi-unit homes have been and will be converted back to single-family homes. This is a large undertaking and city plans have been constructed to make it possible in a way that helps the neighborhood to adjust. 


Recreation is an important component in the health and prosperity of Des Moines neighborhoods. Quality parks and open space add economic and social value to the surrounding area. Parklands also provide aesthetic enhancement and environmental benefits while contributing to the composition and urban fabric of the City.

The Drake neighborhood benefits from two beautiful city parks within its boundaries, Drake Park and Witmer Park. Both of these parks have a rich history, patronized by generations of Des Moines residents to enjoy the rolling landscape and mature tree canopy they provide. Preserving and improving these quality parks for current and future generations to enjoy is a high priority for the Drake Neighborhood Association.

Drake’s location between other neighborhoods such as Beaverdale and Sherman Hill place Drake at a critical center point in connecting northwest Des Moines neighborhoods to downtown and points beyond. In 2008/9 the City of Des Moines Parks and Recreation completed the Waveland Trail connection at 42nd Street just north of I-235. This important trail connection improves the connectivity of the Drake neighborhood to the Walnut Creek Trail and other segments in the Central Iowa Trail System. Biking is a common way to get around in the neighborhood. 


The Drake Neighborhood Association has long been an advocate for enhancing public spaces wherever possible. Two prime examples of this are the plantings within the median along Kingman Boulevard, as well as in Carpenter Square at the intersection of Kingman Boulevard and Cottage Grove Avenue at 25th Street. These enhancements at highly visible locations not only create a positive impression for residents and visitors but they also serve as an annual community building and social activity for the Neighborhood Association. The Drake neighborhood looks to continue these efforts and expand upon them as additional opportunities come forward.  

Shopping, Dining, Entertaining

Dogtown is the commercial district adjacent to Drake University and named after the ever-so-popular Drake University bulldog mascot. Originally known as the University Place business district, it boomed in the early 1900s with several grocers, banks, drug stores, auto service stations, the Newens dairy, and a Coca-Cola bottling works. Today, this mixed-use district caters to the Drake University community and the neighborhood with an eclectic mix of retail shops, eateries, and historic anchors like the Varsity Theatre and the Drake Diner. Plans for Dogtown include implementing the Drake Streetscape Plan and developing the area as a Cultural and Entertainment District. 

The streetscape improvements and new buildings will help to better integrate the University with surrounding neighborhood and commercial areas, providing a sense of place and recognizable identity.  It may also encourage property owners to invest in improvements to their own buildings and bring in new business. Dogtown has the opportunity to capitalize on the University’s many cultural activities by partnering with the University to create a larger Cultural and Entertainment District. This continues to be under construction and has big plans in 2025.

Uptown Shopping Center Located at the intersection of two major traffic routes, University Avenue and 42nd Street, the Uptown Shopping Center is a busy, auto-oriented neighborhood commercial center on the western 

 edge of the Drake neighborhood. Home to a HyVee Drugtown, Campbells Nutrition, a variety of dining establishments, medical services, and retail shops, the Uptown Center draws from a larger market than just Drake residents. 

As a strip commercial center, there is a single owner who manages the property and leases space to business tenants. The Uptown Center serves as a major commercial anchor for Drake and other surrounding neighborhoods. Stakeholders discussed the need for networking opportunities among Uptown and other Drake-area business owners.

Forest Avenue Corridor is a hub of activity. Forest Avenue is a major east-west connector in the City of Des Moines. In 2002, concerned with condition, former Councilman Vlassis initiated a study into the redevelopment of the corridor. This led to the Forest Avenue Corridor Strategy plan, adopted in 2004, a market study conducted by Economic Research Associates (ERA) in 2005, and an Urban Renewal plan, adopted in 2005 and amended in 2006. In the Drake neighborhood, the University campus splits the corridor into two distinct commercial areas, ―east and ―west. Forest Avenue East as a mixed-use corridor, with higher density residential development such as townhomes, row-homes, or apartments as well as neighborhood supportive businesses, such as offices, restaurants, or other services. Forest Avenue West has become quite the entertainment district with livable space and many restaurants and beverage shops. 


The Drake neighborhood can be called the original ―west side of Des Moines. Settlement began with farmsteads and, in the 1870s, clusters of the earliest suburban development in the metro area. But it was the founding of Drake University in 1881 that set into motion development patterns that have continued and endured since. Naming rights for the new Disciples of Christ-affiliated university went to Gen. Francis Marion Drake, a Civil War hero and wealthy railroad owner who would go on to serve a term as governor of Iowa. He and other university backers purchased 140 acres of high and dry land and embarked on an ambitious funding plan for campus buildings that involved selling lots through the University Land Company. The land company carefully and purposefully laid out an attractive community with spacious lots, wide streets, alleys, and parkland—all centered around the 5-acre Drake University. Land auctions were an efficient means of selling the 465 lots, which were priced at $275 to $500. For each lot that sold, one-fourth of the price was donated to the university. This was an innovative financing arrangement that later inspired two other Des Moines colleges to follow suit.

Lot buyers were encouraged to build houses as soon as possible so that students attending the university would have a place to stay. The university did not have on campus dormitories for its first 50 years, and instead relied on homeowners to board students. However, fast and furious land speculation on the outskirts of Des Moines outstripped housing construction, leaving vacant lots scattered about. This is one reason why the Drake neighborhood supports such a wide mix of architectural styles and housing types built over several decades. After the land company dissolved in 1886, the university continued in the real estate business, acquiring more land, platting and selling lots, and even developing two apartment buildings. The university’s real-estate successes prompted other developers to found their own subdivisions to the north and west of the campus.

Due to the brisk land sales, University Place became a booming suburb – officially incorporated in 1883. Shortly after, in 1890, Des Moines annexed its surrounding suburbs, offering municipal services such as expanded streetcar service as incentives for consolidation. University Place was the first of the suburbs to get an electric streetcar route, which ran from downtown to 24th Street, then down University Avenue, turning back at 29th Street. University Place retained its own identity for decades after. The majority of residents had direct ties to Drake University – as trustees, professors, students, alumni, or university supporters. The homes they built set an example for the type of middle-class to upper-middleclass housing the university desired in order to recruit and retain students. Much of the housing stock directly around the original university campus was built in the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles – most built between 1885 and 1915.

The fashionable Victorian neighborhood also supported two business districts (including today’s Dogtown), plus schools, churches, post office, and library. In the 1910s, a student-housing crunch led to some older, larger houses being used as multifamily dwellings—either as fraternity or sorority houses for Drake students or apartments. As students began to dominate the area around the campus, homebuilding escalated to the west. Craftsman and Colonial Revival two-stories and bungalows proliferated during a building boom that occurred roughly between 1900 and 1917. And Revival architecture dominated automobile-oriented subdivisions developed between World War I and World War II.

After World War II, when Drake University enrollment spiked thanks to the GI Bill, the university eagerly repurchased land it had originally sold in order to expand. Some homeowners around the campus converted their houses into apartments as the financial incentives rose. The 1950s saw the unveiling of the freeway plan for American cities. In Des Moines, the construction of Interstate 235 resulted in dramatic changes and the loss of some housing on the southern end of the Drake neighborhood. By the time the interstate opened in the 1960s, property values had plummeted, many families had fled to new subdivisions, and absentee-landlord owned properties became the norm. The university continued to rely on the neighborhood to relieve student-housing pressure as enrollment swelled during the height of the Vietnam War.

In the 1970s, the first wave of Des Moines urban pioneers purchased apartment houses and boarding houses— some for just a few thousand dollars—and began converting them back to single-family homes. A group of concerned residents created the nonprofit Drake Neighborhood Association in 1979. It was the second such organization in the city. Members researched National Register of Historic Places nominations, wrote a neighborhood history book, refurbished original brick sidewalks, and other projects. Within a few years, the Drake neighborhood was named the state’s most improved neighborhood. Today the Drake Neighborhood Association remains one of the largest and most active recognized neighborhood associations in Des Moines. 

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