A party at Hoyt’s place, a century in the making

A new outdoor stage at Hoyt Sherman Place opens a new stage in the site’s history. Photo: Confluence

Writer: Michael Morian

If you’ve ever worked on a landscaping project, you know the deal: It always takes longer than you expect. At Hoyt Sherman Place, the front lawn is almost finished after 114 years of planning.

A ceremony to celebrate that milestone is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, with brief remarks at 5:30 p.m. and performances by the Isiserettes and the jazz band from Theodore Roosevelt High School — whose namesake still lived in the White House in early 1909, the year the Des Moines Women’s Club commissioned the original landscape design for Hoyt Sherman’s old mansion here in town.

The club initially asked Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who helped plan several national parks. But he was busy with other projects at the time, so he recommended his colleague Charles Mulford Robinson, whose plan for Hoyt Sherman Place was part of a broader design for the entire up-and-coming city.

In 1926, the club commissioned a second plan from Etta Bardwell, one of Iowa’s first female landscape architects, who suggested planting various trees and shrubs to boost the property’s curb appeal, to borrow a modern phrase. And now, finally, it’s coming to life.

“It’s fabulous,” Hoyt Sherman Place CEO Robert Warren said. “If you stand on Woodland Avenue and look up, it’s like an entrance to Central Park. It makes you feel like you’re staring up at this really grand space.”

The new enhancements were approved by the State Historic Preservation Office as well as the city’s historic preservation commission. They include a circular stage flanked by brick pillars that match the 1877 mansion, plus stairs that connect the plaza to the sidewalk. Warren’s team will use the new space to host concerts and events, like the annual Jazz in July series, movie screenings and neighborhood shindigs like Halloween on the Hill.

The project team, led by Confluence, have planted 16 trees for shade and plan to add six more next spring. The new ones are Osage oranges, grafted from trees at Abraham Lincoln’s gravesite in Illinois and planted almost five years ago at Brenton Arboretum, awaiting their final move to Sherman Hill.

Lincoln, of course, worked with Hoyt Sherman’s brother, Gen. William Sherman, during the Civil War. There’s always a local connection, even if it takes a few years — or 114 — to retrace the roots.

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