"LIVING ABOVE THE AVENUE"
by Douglass W. Wallace, F.S.A. Scot.
Living downtown, of course, dates from Topeka's earliest days. The first structure of any kind, a log house located near 1st and Kansas, housed in December, 1854, the nine men who would be recorded as the Kansas capital's founders. Constitution Hall, the first true, permanent structure likewise, down through the years, provided shelter for people as did many future commercial buildings along "the Avenue."
While these business blocks frequently served as home for stores on the ground floor and families on the upper, an early instance of a building devoted exclusively for residential purposes was the ROSS ROWHOUSES at 513-521 Van Buren. Saved from demolition by Historic Topeka, pioneer editor William W. Ross commenced their construction in 1880. Italianate, the six town houses also go by the name "Washington Row" after the numerous examples found in the nation's capital. Ross, something of a vagabond, was no doubt familiar with the type, having practiced law the previous decade in Washington, D.C. For a century, countless Topekans called the Ross home.
Among the dwellings downtown, "above the Avenue," are:
ST. JOHN'S SCHOOL (former), 315 W. 4th (1922). St. John's Evangelical Lutheran School was built in 1922 at a cost between $20,000 and $25,000. A plain, 2-story over basement brick building, the only significant exterior decorative features are the shallow entablature above the central entrance plus the stone belt across the front, near the roof line. The school moved in 1951, and later the Shawnee County Medical Society and blood bank occupied quarters here. In 1978 Topeka Ballet purchased the building for studios and rehearsal halls but relinquished it not long afterwards. During the 1980s it was converted into residences as the Johannes Arms Apartments. On the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
HOTEL KANSAN (former), 9th & Kansas (1924). The 1920s saw two hotel companies race to see which would complete the first "modern" hotel in downtown. Both experienced setbacks, but the Kansan -- the company headed by Frank MacLennan, David Page, James A. Troutman, C.B. Merriam, and many other distinguished Topekans--opened ahead of the Jayhawk. Ten-stories of reinforced concrete, it contained a handsome columned lobby, 300 rooms, banquet rooms, coffee shop (the Purple Cow), several stores, and a roof garden ballroom. The Kansas City architectural firm of Shepard and Wiser designed the U-shape structure, typical of its era, the special feature of which is the "Greek Temple" or columned pediment atop the upper stories (one amusing incident after it opened, in 1925 a stuntman climbed the outside walls and proceeded to "sit" on its flagpole--the "crazy '20s"). The hotel closed in 1968 and soon thereafter remodeled into apartments; in 1987 Commerce Bank renovated the lobby for banking purposes.
GEM BUILDING, 508 W. 10th (1928). The late 1920s witnessed a major spurt in apartment house construction in Topeka, many along the 800, 900, and 1000 blocks of Topeka Blvd. and Tyler St. Vaguely Spanish or Mediterranean in style, the firm of Cuthbert and Suehrk designed the Gem (at the same time they completed plans for Gage School and the Jencks residence, 1998 Designers' Showhouse). Unlike most local apartments but typical of those back east, a drugstore and grocery occupied space on the ground floor. The market and building were owned by Fritz Leuenberger, a grocer well remembered by older Topekans. On the 2nd and 3rd floors are 12 five room apartments, notable for their built-in bookcases, beneath an arch, which separates the kitchen from the living room. Most have original light fixtures and some French doors opening onto balconies. Given HTI Preservation Award in 1992.
GRISWOLD RESIDENCE, 1031 Fillmore (1886). An example of a central city Victorian home converted into apartments, it is a classic Queen Anne style house possessing decorative siding, an "eyebrow" dormer, and ornate interior woodwork. At the turn-of-the-century this was the home of Josiah P. Griswold, President of the Shawnee Milling Co. and a promoter of the street railway system and the Edison Electric Co., a predecessor of KP&L. Too, he was the step-father of sculptor Robert Merrell Gage who created in the backyard barn (razed) the "Seated Lincoln" for the Kansas Statehouse grounds. Sometime during the 1940s owners converted it into a multifamily dwelling, but in recent years it has been well maintained and preserved, receiving the HTI Preservation Award in 1990.
THE DEVON, 12th & Taylor (1887 & 1906). Topeka contractor Henry Bennett built the first "apartment" house on this site in 1887-8, calling it "Bennett's Flats." Then in 1906 prominent attorney and businessman James W. Gleed remodeled it, among other alterations changing the attic into a full 3rd floor and refacing the facade into its present Prairie Style character of broad horizontal lines and arched openings. Each of the some 20 apartments are unique, some with pocket or French doors, plus hardwood floors and distinctive wood trim and moldings; open staircases "spiral" to the top floor. On ground level, a market occupied the southwest corner until the mid 1980s and on the southeast corner a drugstore from 1906 to 1959. In the latter space, today the Cafe' Holliday looks out onto verdant Holliday Park--The Devon, a distinct landmark in a distinct, historic neighborhood adjacent to downtown.
Redevelopment Proposals for Ross Row Houses
Since its acquisition of the historic Ross Row Houses in 1993, Historic Topeka, Inc. has dedicated much of its resources to the stabilization and preservation of these buildings. Historic Topeka, Inc. is now in a position to accept lease-purchase proposals for five of the six row houses. The organization intends to retain one unit as its office and house museum. Interested parties may contact Ross Row House Committee Chair Mark Burenheide at 235-6317 or write Historic Topeka, Inc. at 3127 S. W. Huntoon, Suite 6, Topeka, Kansas 66604.
by Cooper C. Woodring, Board Member
Friends of the Free State Capitol, Inc.
The Friends of the Free State Capitol, Inc. are gratified that the Legislature has agreed with the position that the Temporary Kansas State Capitol buildings in the 400 block of Kansas Avenue in Topeka should be saved, by appropriating $100,000 to us to purchase, stabilize and mothball the site.
We are also gratified that the Governor of Kansas agrees with the position, by signing into law that appropriation.
All Kansans should rejoice, that when dire circumstances demand it our elected officials have the integrity and the ability to do what is in the best interests of preserving our heritage and history. Congratulations, not only to them, but to the Kansas State Historical Society for their reports, studies and resolutions supporting this action.
Now, as the recent cartoon in The Topeka Capital-Journal so aptly points out, the burden is on us, the Friends of the Free State Capitol, Inc., to develop a plan for the buildings and to raise the monies necessary to turn an eyesore into and economically viable "destination"--one that preserves and teaches the important priniciples of integration and inclusion of the Free State Constitution, and one that adds significantly to the rich and proud history of our forbearers.
We have an excellent core group of dedicated volunteers; however, if you want to get involved and help with this formidable task, please write us, care of Brian Thompson, President, Friends of the Free State Capitol, P.O. Box 2551, Topeka, Kansas 66601. We need your help and your dollars.
Historic Topeka, Inc. sponsored a public forum on the proposed historic preservation ordinance on March 12, 1998 at Topeka High School's Hoehner Auditorium. The eight-member panel was comprised of City Council members Jim Reardon, Pete Tavares, Duane Pomeroy and James McClinton, Historic Topeka board members Cooper Woodring and Cheryl Patterson, Planning Commission member Rowenna Horr, and State Historic Preservation Officer Ramon Powers.
Discussion was lively and supportive of the proposed ordinance. Topics discussed included the state's initiatives to redevelop its downtown properties, the community's involvement in the drafting of this ordinance, preservation planning for the future, certified local governments and their relationship to historic preservation ordinances, preservation-friendly code revisions and reductions, financial incentives for preservation such as the Historic Asset Preservation Fund and revolving loan funds, preservation partnerships, empowerment of community through preservation, activities of the newly formed landmarks commission, historic districts, and demolition by neglect.
In his opening comments Deputy Mayor Jim Reardon noted that the community has had an opportunity to buy into the ordinance and while not everyone agrees with it, its time has come.
The planning commission will take action on the proposed historic preservation ordinance at its May 4, 1998 meeting. The city council will then get an opportunity to hear the public on the matter and vote on the issue. If the county is interested in participating in the preservation planning program, the ordinance will then go before the county commission for approval as well.
Historic Topeka urges its members to contact their locally elected officials in support of the historic preservation ordinance. Now is the time for the passage of this pivotal piece of local legislation. Show your support!!!
The Preservation Committee of Historic Topeka, Inc. is seeking nominations for properties and projects to be recognized in its 19th Annual HTI Preservation Awards Program. The winners will be announced in the coming weeks.
Established in 1979, each year our prestigious awards program recognizes individuals and companies for their outstanding contributions to preservation in the Topeka community.
If you know of a property or project deserving of recognition this year, please fill out the form at right and return to: Preservation Committee Chair Chris Meinhardt, Historic Topeka, Inc. at 3127 Huntoon, Suite 6; Topeka, Kansas 66604, or phone in your nominations to the HTI office at 354-8982. Nominations may also be sent in via e-mail to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Historic Topeka, Inc. gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following to the restoration of the Ross Row Houses:
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