This Des Moines restaurant is celebrating 125 years of its landmark building's history
Des Moines is full of history, and sometimes that history is told through the food we eat. This downtown building was the first to be inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in March 1982. And this restaurant is helping to celebrate the building's 125th year in existence. Wochit
First, it housed a publishing company. Then, it was home to a hotel. And some might remember the coffin in the front window.
Located on the corner of Locust and 3rd Streets, the Homestead Building is more than just a landmark.
As the building turns 125 years old, the man who renovated the building wants to celebrate with his favorite thing — food.
"I wanted something as it relates very close to what they would have been eating 125 years ago as a celebration," said Bruce Gerleman, owner of Splash Seafood Bar and Grill and the owner of the Homestead Building, where Splash has been located since 1998. Gerleman credits executive chef and 16-year Splash veteran, Dominic Iannarelli, for creating a special old-meets-new menu celebrating the historic landmark's rich history for the month of November.
On the menu
- Sushi Tower — Sushi rice layered with tuna tartare, unagi and wasabi-avocado salmon ($14)
- Bay Scallops — Pan-seared with wild mushroom tortellini, sun-dried tomatoes and sauce Homard (lobster, brandy and tomato sauce - $14).
- Grilled Lamb Chops — Two double-cut chops with mostarda demi-glace ($42).
- 18-ounce Iowa Premium Beef Delmonico — Grilled, with choice of side ($49).
- Filet of Sole Medallions — Oscar-style (with crabmeat and Béarnaise) and butternut squash risotto ($39).
Splash has become well known in Des Moines for its fresh seafood. The restaurant has fish and shellfish flown in every morning, packed on ice, from Hawaii, Washington, Maine and Florida. Gerleman sometimes brings seafood back from his sportfishing trips in Florida. On one occasion, he brought in 75 pounds of yellowtail snapper, which is almost impossible to find in Iowa.
For fresh, raw oyster aficionados, Splash Raw Oyster Bar has been the place to go. "It's still Iowa's only bar that's committed totally to oysters," Gerleman said. "We only serve coldwater oysters there. We go through over a thousand oysters a week." In addition to oysters, Splash has the largest selection of caviar — about four to six varieties at any given time.
One of the largest features of the restaurant space is the aquarium display. Eleven major saltwater tanks are scattered throughout the space with tropical fish visible from almost every seat in the house. But perhaps the most striking one of all is the lone freshwater tank full of piranhas from South America.
It's a far cry from what the building looked like when Gerleman bought it in 1983.
The Homestead Building was built in 1893 and has been home to a political and agricultural publishing company and The Martin Hotel. When Bruce Gerleman purchased the building in 1983, it had been condemned by the city and plans were in place to demolish it and turn the space into a parking lot.
Some people might remember the casket that was visible through the plate glass windows at the entrance to The Martin Hotel. "People would walk by The Martin Hotel on the way to the Civic Center," Gerleman said. "And pass this abandoned building with a casket in the window."
Shortly after purchasing the building, the renovations began. Gerleman said he retrofitted the interior with reinforced steel beams for both the frame and floor. The front of the building bears a sign declaring the downtown Des Moines structure a National Historic Landmark, bestowed in 1982.
Before Gerleman opened Splash, the space was home to a French-inspired restaurant called Metz for 12 years. But Gerleman dreamed of having his own fresh seafood restaurant. After Metz closed, Gerleman finally brought a taste of the Florida Keys to Des Moines, having spent a lot of time in Key Largo and Islamorada.
"At the time, there was no other fresh seafood restaurant in the city other than Waterfront," Gerleman said. "There was no fine dining fresh seafood restaurant." Gerleman said the location across from the Civic Center would be perfect for his new concept.
Since then, the building has been a place for people to dine while downtown for events or special occasions and a destination for those with an insatiable craving for fresh seafood. "When you save buildings like this, they provide such fabric and contrast to the modern buildings," Gerleman said. "They help us recall, reflect and remember our history."
A brief timeline of the Homestead Building
- 1892 — The Homestead Building is built.
- 1893 — James Pierce and Henry Wallace publish Wallace Farmer and Iowa Homestead Magazines.
- 1920s — The Homestead building is converted from a publishing house into a hotel.
- 1983 — The Martin Hotel was condemned by City Hall and scheduled to be demolished. It was to become a parking lot. Bruce Gerleman purchased the building and renovation began.
- 1984 — After more than $2,000,000 in improvements, the renovation was complete
- 1985 — The United States Department of Interior certified the historic renovation of the Homestead Building and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1998 — Splash Seafood Bar and Grill opens.
- 2017 — Today, the Homestead building celebrates 125 years. The four-story building is home to Splash Seafood Bar and Grill, Carney and Appleby Law Firm, Hartung and Schroeder Law Firm, Speak Public Relations Firm, Amy Davis Law Firm and Jethro's BBQ World Headquarters.
Splash Seafood Bar and Grill
Location: 303 Locust St., Des Moines
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; closed Sundays.