A Brief History

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The Streetcar Suburbs! 

The PAF was incorporated as an Iowa non-profit corporation in 1998. We are a private foundation that succeeded the Highland Park Revitalization Committee formed by the City of Des Moines. It represents the Highland Park, Oak Park, and Union Park neighborhoods

Our goals are continued revitalization and educating our residents and other citizens of Des Moines on the history of our neighborhoods and the ongoing benefits of living and working in the Parks area.


From the beginning, our focus has been on community improvement projects with a strong emphasis on education about our rich history. A historian has called the Highland and Oak Park areas one of the best examples of a “streetcar suburb” in the Midwest. The historic Highland Park and Oak Park Neighborhoods were once established as independent cities within Polk County. The "streetcar cities" were annexed by the City of Des Moines in the early 1900's. They were once home to an independent newspaper, Highland Park College, a fire station and other city services.

We have two National Historic Districts for which PAF is the major booster group. In 2000 we purchased the road signage to identify the areas. PAF has sponsored the painting of two large murals depicting local history in addition to publishing a local history book and a DVD showing the area as it appeared in the 1930s.

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Over the years, PAF has received various grants for projects. Grantors include: City of Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa Arts Council, Thrivent for Neighborhoods, Metro Waste Authority, Oak Park Neighbors, Highland Park Community Action Association and the Highland Park Business Club.

PAF has distributed funds to the following groups: Friends of the North Side Library, North High School Dollars for Scholars, North High Athletic Dept, North High Swim Team, North High Cheerleaders, Polar Bear Open Golf Tournament, Central Iowa Blues Society, Make-a-Wish Foundation, Des Moines Public Library, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Iowa Non-Profit Assn., Restoration Ingersoll, Oak Park Easter Egg Hunt, KRNI Kids Fun Day and others.

PAF has also been the sole sponsor of the Highland Sweet Corn Day, a Farmers’ Market, Parks Area Car Show, Parks Area 5-K Fun Run, an 8- week Summer Concert Series and a Historic Trolley Tour.

PAF also sponsors a scholarship to the Des Moines Area Community College for Des Moines North High School graduates.

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Our only large economic development project has been the purchase and historic renovation of a mixed-use building in the 6th and Euclid National Historic District. This project brought five low-to-moderate income apartments back into service for local residents. The building was renovated to National Park Service Standards and was funded by State and Federal Historic Tax Credits, a PAF mortgage and a 5-year forgivable loan from the City of Des Moines.

PAF is the partner with the City of Des Moines in the Highland Park Self Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID.)  This is a taxing district to fund and support streetscape improvements in the district including historic lighting, historic arch over the street, historic signage, trees, planters and public benches.