1000 Friends of Iowa Recognizes Varsity Cinema

February 15, 2024
Interior Design Architecture Restoration

The historic renovation of Varsity Cinema was honored with a 2024 Best Development Award.

1000 Friends of Iowa, a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible land use, smart growth and sustainable development, announced its 2024 Best Development Awards recipients in a ceremony on January 24, 2024. Among the honorees was The Varsity Cinema, which was designed in partnership with RDG Planning & Design, and received an award in the Renovated Commerical category. The Renovated Commerical Award highlights the use of existing structures for commercial purposes and honors such sustainable practices as using salvaged materials, energy-efficient technologies and adherence to historic preservation practices.

RDG worked with the non-profit Des Moines Film Society to restore and rehabilitate the 5,500-SF historic Varsity Theater in an adaptive reuse project that establishes the theater as a community art house cinema. Designated as a Landmark Building by the City of Des Moines in 2020, the 1917 structure was first used as a theater in 1938. Its historic feel, with mid-century modern stone, brightly colored travertine and Art Deco decorative elements, is reinforced and celebrated in the renovation, while more modern elements make the space work for contemporary audiences and staff. Today, the Varsity Cinema again serves as a social, cultural and economic hub for both the Drake Neighborhood and the broader city of Des Moines. 

The Best Development Awards honor projects that recognize connections between buildings and project development and quality of life. Awards are presented for six categories: Civic, Innovative Leadership, Placemaking, Renewable Energy, Renovated Commerical and Young Leaders. Winners are selected from a pool of applications each year and judged by an independent group of jurors. 

Written by Erin Van Zee, Communications Director