The three-story Mirell apartment building at 1134 31st Street, just south of University Avenue, was constructed about 1912. The red brick façade with limestone accents featured two flats on each floor, accessible via a wide central staircase illuminated by a large decorative skylight. The Mirell offered easy access to the streetcar and Drake University via its location in the heart of University Place—the historic name of the Drake Neighborhood.
University Place and Drake University were jointly established in May 1881 in an area that was nothing but oak savanna and farmland. Early university promoters worked to create a beautiful suburb surrounding the small campus, and the university’s real-estate successes prompted other developers to found their own subdivisions nearby. University Place became a desirable address, and decades after its annexation into Des Moines in 1890, the area retained its unique identity.
The original owners of The Mirell were longtime University Place backers Leah Durand Jones and Reson S. Jones—she the daughter of a pioneering entrepreneur and he a graduate of Drake Law School and later a trustee of the university. The couple lived a block away, on Brattleboro Avenue. Merchant Sidney Mandelbaum (Mandelbaum’s department store became part of Younkers in 1928) and wife Estelle Wilchinski Mandelbaum also invested in the project; they later lived a few blocks away on 34th Street.
The first residents moved into The Mirell around 1913. The city directory listings include Dr. Joseph T. Fellows, a physician and surgeon who had a telephone line installed in his unit, and D. Donald Rigg, a salesman for Iowa Portland Cement Company.
By the mid-1930s, the flats had been subdivided into 15 apartments. Through the years, the well-constructed building weathered the changes with aplomb. Today’s restoration coincides with the exciting renaissance now in full bloom in the Drake Neighborhood.