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De Bijenkorf (1.1)

The Bric-a-Brac Department of De Bijenkorf’s Department Store, Agincourt, Iowa / circa 1910

Those skilled in real estate and development know there is in each community a place known as “100% Corner”. It serves as a benchmark against which all other properties are valued. Technically, I suppose, there are two of them facing each other at the intersection of Agincourt Avenue and North Broad Street. The old public library occupies one of them, though its predecessor there was the Masonic Lodge, which burned in 1912, and the other is still dominated by the F+M+M Bank. But there are two other valuable corner properties — I’ll rate them at 98%, for the sake of argument — which must have seen a comparable degree of interest and desirability.

De Bijenkorf’s Department Store has stood at #1 South Broad Street from about 1905, when the Van der Rijn family acquired the first of three buildings conjoined to make the building seen there today. Property on North Broad Street was too costly to assemble such a multi-building parcel, and De Bijenkorf’s was the first business to cross the Avenue onto the less fashionable end of Broad. It was more than a calculated risk, though, because the Auditorium had opened in ’95 and the Blenheim Hotel just five years later. The pedestrian bridge and ground level arcade united them establlished a climate-controlled complex of shopping, dining, and entertainment that North Broad couldn’t offer.

Blending narrow 19th century Victorian storefronts was common enough in smaller communities. Upper floor levels differed by no more than twelve to sixteen inches, but varying façades made a unified corporate identity difficult. The block plan shown above identifies the 75 by 140 foot footprint — part of it hollowed out to create an atrium and reorient the store onto the Square — but I’ve never actually come to grips with the inevitable resurfacing that might have been postponed until after the war (WWI, that is). I have an idea, however, that early 20th century architectural terracotta will come into play.


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