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Olsan Building at 400 Main Street
Photo from 1912
F. J. Olsan & Sons was an early Ames retail florist operation. The Olsan Building was constructed at 400 Main Street in 1911 and 1912. It was the first totally fireproof building on Main Street (Sheldon-Munn Hotel was the second) because it was constructed of poured concrete. W. A. Jennings, an employee of Olsan's in the 1920s, also used concrete forming when he founded Economy Forms Company in Des Moines.
CORNER STONE LAID YESTERDAY - F.J. Olsan laid the corner stone to his new building on Main street yesterday at one o'clock. A few friends gathered to watch the proceeding. Dr. Geo. D. Crissman remarked upon the growth of Mr. Olsan's business and Parley Sheldon followed showing the value of such a business to the town. Rev. William Sunday who was present with Mr. Sheldon said, "That is the kind of a building to build. Have the kind you can take your quilts and carpets out of and turn the hose on the inside. Both sanitary and comfortable." Rev. W. J. Minchin testified as to the quality of Mr. Olsan's seeds, having planted some of his watermelon seeds in the spring. Mr. F. R. Conaway closed the program with a few remarks about Mr. Olsan and his progress.
The box in the corner stone contains the following: two volumes latest history of Story county, city directories, thirty views of town including picture of Dr. Beardshear, papers - Ames Times, Intelligencer, Hospodar, paper with which Mr. Olsan is connected, Visergutten, Chicago Hlasatel, Cambridge Leader, Venqov, Slater News, Story City Herald, Nevada Representative, Nevada Journal, Cedar Rapids Ke Listy, Osveta Americka, Demieca, Homestead, Des Moines Capital, News and Register and Leader. A bottle containing fifty different varieties of seeds sealed with a glass cork was included in the contents.
ACCIDENT ON NEW OLSAN BUILDING - Charles Olsan had the misfortune to break both bones in his right arm near the wrist Tuesday afternoon while at work. He was running the concrete mixing machine at the new Olsan building and caught the sleeve of his coat on a peg as he reached inside to adjust some of the machinery. The mixer turned around until the oil cup caught his arm and stopped the machine. This not only broke both bones but badly bruised the arm as well.
Besides laying Charles up for a couple of months, the accident will delay somewhat the completion of his father's new building. Charles is a student at the college but stayed out this term to help with the erection of the building. He has been running the mixer and superintending the important work on top of the building. However, a brother, George, has taken charge of the mixer and work on the building continues. There are only about 200 feet, 4 feet high of concrete work left to finish and then the inside work will be commenced. Mr. Olsan has sons who are very capable in helping him with the work and Charles' accident at this time is a great loss to him.
This photo of the F. J. Olsan & Sons Building dates from after 1915. By this time, the exterior had been painted, the house to the west had been replaced by the Roberson Garage, and the delicatessen storefront was occupied by a furniture store. The current owner of the building says that he has heard that, when constructed, the poured concrete structure was strengthened with pieces of iron - rails from the Ames & College Dinkey.
OLSAN BLOCK WILL BE OPENED SATURDAY - Ames will pay its respects tomorrow to Mr. F.J. Olsan, the little big booster and the builder of the first solid concrete building in Ames. The Olsan opening occurs Saturday. It will be a strictly metropolitan affair. The people of Ames and vicinity are invited to call and inspect both the flower and seed store and the delicatessen. Mr. Olsan has been planning on the opening, and a flower will be presented to everyone visiting the two stores tomorrow. Be sure to call some time during the day and get an idea of what Mr. and Mrs. Model have to offer you in the delicatessen line.
F.J. Olsan founded this greenhouse operation in Ames in the late 1890s. The greenhouse was located west of the current Design Building on the Iowa State campus. Learn more about F.T. Olsan and his greenhouse.Twenty years ago F.J. Olsan started his business career in Ames as a florist. In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of his successful career, Mr. Olsan, assisted by his two sons, Milo and Charles, will receive the public at an all day reception at the florist shop on Main street Friday, November 17. The affair will give opportunity for Mr. Olsan to bid his friends and patrons farewell before going south for the winter and for the new proprietors to greet their friends and future patrons. Music will be provided during the afternoon and evening hours, and each visitor will be presented with a flower.
DAD OLSAN, FLORIST, GOES VACATIONING - SELLS GREENHOUSES TO HIS SONS AND WILL RETIRE - Milo and Charles Olsan have purchased the interests of their father, F.J. Olsan, pioneer florist of Ames, and will in the future conduct the business, having taken over the greenhouse and the main street flower shop.
"Dad" Olsan, as he is called by young and old, feels that he needs and is entitled to a rest from the daily routine and cares of the workaday world. For twenty years he has been a strenuous worker coaxing the flowers to bloom, and now he plans to enjoy a winter in the south where he can watch them grow without attention. In a couple of weeks Mr. Olsan will leave for Louisiana where he has legions of friends. However, he plans to maintain his residence in Ames, and will return in the spring.
There are few residents in Ames who have not at one time at least wore a gay buttonaire given them by "Dad" Olsan. He was generous hearted, always cheerful and he will be genuinely missed along Main street. The members of the new firm have been reared in the business, and are sure to make a success.
PIONEER AMES FLORIST, OLSAN, DEAD AT 91 - Funeral services will be held here Friday for a pioneer Ames florist who died yesterday at Webster City. He was Frank J. Olsan, 91, of Tampa, Florida, who established the Olsan Greenhouses here many years ago and who built the building which now houses the State Cafe and the Orning Glass Company, at the southwest corner of Main and Burnett.
Mr. Olsan died in the Webster City hospital. He had been visiting a daughter in Webster City when taken ill. Born on Feb. 17, 1859, in Moravia, Mr. Olsan came to this country in 1889, settling first at Iowa City. Later he moved west, but returned to Council Bluffs in 1891 and came to Ames in 1897.
After conducting a greenhouse and florist business here for many years, he sold out to three of his sons and retired and since that time had been living in Florida. Four of his children still are florists.
|July 19, 1991
Dear Ruth & Farwell,
I have been remiss in writing you after your call, but I have been waiting to hear from my family about their remembrances of the Olsan building. My other sister and brother would remember more than I, though we were all born after it was built. That was 1911 and all concrete and fireproof. My father broke his arm three times while mixing the concrete and pouring it into forms. My father gave Jennings, who worked in the greenhouses in the fourth ward (308 N. Sheldon) the idea so Jennings had nothing to do with the building, but the building had a lot to do with Jennings' success. He, of course, perfected the forms and I imagine they are continually being upgraded or changed. As long as I remember, the floor of the basement in our house was made of these forms (originals).
Billy Sunday dedicated the building and the Mayor and other Ames public citizens were there. On the northeast corner there is a box of letters, memorabilia, etc. imbedded. I believe my father said it was a steel box and somewhere in the town records it is expressed that it be gotten out and read 100 years later. That would be 2011. I doubt if any of us will be around! Maybe my youngest sister, who was born in 1929.
My uncles all helped in the construction of the building. There might be pictures in the city files when it was being built.
We know Iowa is hot. Hope you are both fine. Always good to hear from you.