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1800 Grand Avenue - A Historical Place from it's beginning.
Ford Motor Company

This building was constructed about 1916 by the Ford Motor Company, and completed in May of 1918.  The original building is approximately 450 feet long, 120 feet wide, five stories high in front, plus a ground floor level under the entire building and a sub-basement under approximately two-thirds of the building. 

The facility started with the production of auto parts, and in April of 1920 began production of auto bodies.  In September of 1920, with the completion of the chassis line, completed Model Ts began rolling out of the plant.  The plant worked two shifts until the addition of a third shift in either 1923 or '24.  Model Ts, Model As, Model Bs and Model 18s were built at the Des Moines Plant.  In December of 1932, the Des Moines plant ceased car assembly and became a sales service branch and warehousing distribution point..  In 1943, the Ford headquarters office ordered the branch closed and all operations were moved to Chicago. 
 

Solar Aircraft Company

 

Solar Aircraft - circa 1948

The San Diego based, Solar Aircraft Company, leased the building at 1800 Grand in May of 1942.  In order to meet the war demand for stainless steel aircraft parts, Solar expanded it's operation by taking over the five-story building in Des Moines, containing 343,700 square feet of floor space.  This centrally located spot was well situated to serve both the Midwest and Eastern aircraft manufacturing plants...  The Des Moines plant would eventually be responsible for turning out approximately one-half of Solar's total production. 

During World War II, the Des Moines plant had earned 3 Army-Navy "E" awards.  From May, 1942 until the end of the war, the Des Moines plant turned out more than 300,000 aircraft manifold systems.

On September 8, 1948, The Solar Aircraft Company rededicated it's commitment to Des Moines by announcing it had purchased the building it had leased since 1942. At that time, Solar employed 1100 men and women as engineers, production workers, and office staff.

In making the purchase announcement, Solar's President, Edmund T. Price expressed a warm personal affection for the many Des Moines friends of the Company and indicated that this friendly attitude wand local spirit of cooperation had done much to convince Solar Management that the permanent establishment of one of its factories in Des Moines was desirable.  In closing, Mr. Price said that "it is with pride, humility and sincere pleasure that we become a permanent member of the Des Moines community, and we shall continue with renewed vigor to bring the attention of the country to Des Moines and to Solar."

Solar Aircraft produced parts of the Allison J-33 jet turbine engine, which powered Lockheed's P-80, as well as the Allison J-35 that powered the Navy's D-558 Douglas Skystreak.  Solar also redesigned and manufactured exhaust manifolds for the B-29 Superfortress and Douglas Aircraft Company's DC-4.  In fact, Solar manufactured manifolds and heat resistant cowl wells, shrouds, muffs, heat exchangers and other related items for over 100 leading types of airplanes.  Reportedly, the Des Moines engineers may have been involved in pioneering the Navy's Jet Afterburner under a contract with the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics, but we are unable to confirm that rumor.  We have also heard that the engineers at the Des Moines Plant developed the Surface-to-Air missile technology.

Eventually, Solar Aircraft needed to expand it's operations to a facility more attuned to the requirements of production and distribution.  It sold the building to the School District, but leased the space until the new facility at Fleur Drive and Bell Avenue was completed.   

An interesting side note:  On company literature, Solar Aircraft listed it's Des Moines address as 1900 Grand Avenue. 
  

Des Moines Public Schools

 

D. M. Technical High School - circa 1983

 

East Face of Addition over looking the Plaza during construction - circa Fall, 1957

 

The Building Addition near completion - circa Winter 1958

Late in 1951, it was learned that the Solar Aircraft Company planned to vacate the building at 18th and Grand Avenue. 

Many saw this as an opportunity to overcome obstacles and a solution to problems that plagued D. M. Tech High at the 15th and Center location.  The "largest high school in Iowa" when West High was built in 1889, had grown from less then 300 students in 1942 to 900 in 1952, to a sustained 1100 census in 1954 through 1957.  The District studied the problems, and it became evident that the Solar Aircraft building would provide ample space and infrastructure required by a growing technical high school. 

A plan was developed to bring together at this location the technical high school, the administrative offices of the Board of Education, the furniture factory and repair shop, and the supply department and warehousing for the district.  This program was presented to the voters who authorized the purchase of the building in May, 1952.  According to agreement it was then leased to the Solar Aircraft Company while their new plant was under construction.

Architects and planners developed a plan for an addition to the building.  The addition in front of the building houses the auditorium; radio and television broadcasting booths, offices and equipment; separate gymnasiums for boys and girls; and a swimming pool.  Construction of the original building was such that it could not house any of theses activities.   

The first classes to occupy the building were 1959, '60 and '61.  The class of 1959 was the first to use the new auditorium for graduation ceremonies. The tradition of using the school's auditorium for graduation ceremonies continued with each class until the closure of Tech in 1986.  While '59 and '60 had attended classes in the old building, the Class of 1961 proudly proclaims that they were the first class to attend all three years in the new high school setting.  The Class of 1986 holds the distinction of being Des Moines Technical High School's last graduating class.

   
   
   

"For Tech We Will"
1990 - 2004 by The Blue And Gold Alumni Association