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About Observatory Building
The Observatory Building, also known as the Van Ginkle Building, was a skyscraper located in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Standing at 197 ft tall (60 m) and heralded as "the tallest office building between Chicago and San Francisco" when opened on April 1, 1896, it was also the first skyscraper in Iowa. Although it was the tallest office building, the Observatory Building was not the tallest building in Des Moines, the Iowa State Capitol, completed in 1884, was 275 ft tall (84 m). With a look considered modern for its time, the building consisted of nine stories of office space, a rooftop garden including a 600-seat venue for outdoor performances, and a four-story observation tower, the distinctive feature which also gave the building its name. Electricity and gas lighting was provided to all tenants. Access to the tower was provided to paying customers for what was at the time an almost unique view of the city. The installation of a beacon that would shine over the city nightly added further to the buildings uniqueness. From its incorporation in 1896 until 1905 the head office of the Central Life Assurance Society of the United States was located in the Observatory Building.