Sawyer & Watrous, Architects

Sawyer and Watrous was a Des Moines architectural firm formed by a partnership in 1905 and incorporated in 1929 by Ralph E. Sawyer and Charles A. Watrous (son of Charles L. Watrous, for whom Watrous Avenue is named). The younger Mr. Watrous was born in 1875, went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, served overseas during World War I and, according to his obituary, was a founding member of the Wakonda Club. That still-thriving institution was formed in 1922 due to a split from the Des Moines Golf and Country Club when the lease was not renewed at their location adjacent to the Henry home.

Mr. Sawyer was born in Boston in 1873, graduated with a degree in architecture from MIT (where he met Watrous), and worked from Boston designing the buildings while Watrous supervised construction here in Iowa. In the spring of 1909 Sawyer joined his partner in Des Moines, where their firm had become well established.

From The Midwestern of October 1908 comes this passage, “Of the newer architect firms in the middle West, none has attracted a greater prominence ranking with the best in the country…Charlie Watrous, as he is familiarly known in Des Moines and Iowa, is a native Des Moines boy, reared and educated in his boyhood home... Mr. Sawyer is an artist and a poet in his line as well as a highly and thoroughly trained architect. His standing among Eastern architects is of the very highest and his coming to Iowa means much for the future building in the state… Des Moines is certainly fortunate in adding them to its list of builders.”

According historian Julie Leining in the National Register application for the Crane building, Sawyer & Watrous were quite busy.

"In their early years they designed a number of residences on 37th street, among them the Gardner Cowles Sr. house, and houses for Meier Rosenfields and the Pfeiffers. They occupied rooms in a building owned by the Watrous family after Sawyer moved to Des Moines in 1911. 

"George Hippee boosted their careers by having them design the main streetcar offices, waiting room and turnaround at 6th and Mulberry and, soon thereafter, the Hippee Building, now called the Midland Building. The twelve story, brick and terra-cotta clad Hippee building (1913) is perhaps their greatest work. Other major structures include the former Shrine Temple, The Main Power Station for the Des Moines Electric Company, the Logan School, the Brinsmaid Store on 7th, and the Enterprise building at 12th and Grand. Drawings of many of these structures appear in advertisements placed by the firm in the Spokesman for the City of Des Moines, 1916-1919."

The Sawyer & Watrous firm placed its mark on Des Moines architecture that that has stood the test of time.

Charles A. Watrous died in 1940 and Ralph E. Sawyer in 1947, both at their Des Moines homes.