Remembering Roger Williams and the Younkers Building

By Tom Quiner

I opened the piano lid and saw a name scrawled on the frame: Roger Williams.
Yesterday, I played piano at the 2nd Annual Catholic Men’s Conference which took place at St. Francis Assisi Catholic Church in West Des Moines.
As I set up for the Benediction at 8AM, I learned that the piano I’d be playing had been given to the church by the great pianist, Roger Williams. It was his practice piano, and he even autographed it.
If you’re not familiar with the late Mr. Williams, he was the top selling piano recording audience in the world with 18 gold and platinum albums, even outselling Liberace. Mr. Williams grew up in Des Moines. He is best known for his instrumental rendition of “Autumn Leaves”, characterized by its distinctive chromatic runs.

Remnants of Younkers [photo by Mike Hiatt]

Remnants of Younkers [photo by Mike Hiatt]

After playing “O Saving Victim” and “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” on Williams’ old piano, I closed the lid and chatted with friends before the first speaker began. That is when I heard about the fire.
The old Younker’s Building, home of the iconic Younkers Tea Room, had burned down the night before. The Tea Room is where the young Roger Williams got his start before fame and fortune lured him to Las Vegas and beyond.
Readers of this blog outside of Iowa can’t fully appreciate how well-known this 105 year old building was, even though it had sat empty for 9 years. Generations of Iowans had shopped and dined there. I had even participated in a children’s “fashion show” when I was 5 years old. I remember I received a canteen for my skills at modeling the fashions of the day for 5 year olds.
Younkers was in the early stages of being retro fitted into apartments when Mr. Williams old stage when down in flames.
Roger Williams. The Younkers Building. May these two icons rest in peace.


  1. lburleso on March 31, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Tom, great job this weekend.
    Playing that piano must have added a special touch to the event.
    Thanks for lending your talent!

    • quinersdiner on March 31, 2014 at 9:49 am

      Thanks, Lee, it was truly my pleasure.