A series of projects on the drawing board with the City of Topeka will impact the physical appearance of that city’s downtown area. A proposal to realign I-70 has been adopted, and the Capital District Project will redesign public spaces along Kansas Avenue. North of the Kansas River, the NOTO Arts District is picking up steam as the community reinvents this 19th century commercial node for the 21st century. The redevelopment efforts these projects and others will spur have the potential to either support or detract from the historic character of Topeka’s oldest major commercial corridor.
Downtown Topeka Historical Survey - To help decision-makers balance new opportunities with historic preservation, the City of Topeka hired Rosin Preservation, LLC to complete a survey of historic resources in the Kansas Avenue commercial district. The goal of the project was two-fold: 1) to identify buildings that may be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (National Register) or the Register of Historic Kansas Places (Kansas Register) and 2) conversely, to identify areas that are not register eligible and therefore prime for redevelopment.
Using boundaries developed by the Topeka Landmarks Commission, Rosin Preservation inventoried 221 buildings in an area along Kansas Avenue, both north and south of the Kansas River. The boundary included the original 19th century commercial centers of Topeka and North Topeka (originally the town of Eugene). Both areas are densely built with commercial, industrial, and government buildings erected over a 150-year period between 1855 and 2009. They illustrate an evolution of function and design that amalgamated as the modern City of Topeka.
City of Topeka Historic Preservation Plan – In 2013, The Topeka Landmarks Commission and the Topeka Planning Department hired Heritage Strategies, LLC to write and update to the City’s historic preservation plan. Working with the Topeka Landmarks Commission and Planning Department Staff, Heritage Strategies, LLC held a total of 15 public meetings, along with approximately two dozen personal meetings with various stakeholders. The resulting plan, approved by Topeka’s governing body, provides guidance and direction to the Landmarks Commission in focusing on advocacy, heritage tourism, and continued emphasis on Downtown Topeka and Topeka’s many unique neighborhoods, as well as strengthening their role as a review body. The Historic Preservation Plan goes beyond a traditional Historic Preservation Plan by including many recommendations that require leadership and action from stakeholders throughout the community, in addition to the traditional roles of the City and the Landmarks Commission.
Downtown Topeka Historic District Nominations - The Topeka Landmarks Commission and the Topeka Planning Department are currently undertaking the nomination process for two separate areas recommended by Rosin Preservation through this survey for designation to the National Register of Historic Places. These areas each reflect separate and distinct time periods of development in Topeka’s history. The largest of these areas includes a large portion of the Capital District Project, and extends along S. Kansas Avenue between SW 6th and SW 10th Avenues. This area represents perhaps the broadest spectrum of historical development within Downtown Topeka, with buildings dating from the 1890s to the present day. In 2014, the Topeka Planning Department received funding through the State Historic Preservation Office’s Historic Preservation Fund to hire a consultant to undertake this nomination project. Work on these nominations will proceed throughout 2014, with presentation to the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review anticipated in early 2015 for their consideration as designated historic districts.
College Hill Neighborhood Survey - The College Hill Neighborhood Association and the Topeka Landmarks Commission are coordinating efforts to perform an historical survey of the College Hill Neighborhood, with the goal of expanding the College Avenue National Historic District. In 2014, the Topeka Planning Department received funding through the State Historic Preservation Office’s Historic Preservation Fund to hire a consultant to undertake this survey project.
The survey will document a significant portion of the College Hill neighborhood to determine those properties that retain historic integrity, and would qualify as contributors to an expansion of the existing District. Subsequent surveys will be performed in future years to survey the entirety of the College Hill Neighborhood.
Update of the Historic Landmarks Ordinance - The process of amending the Topeka Historic Landmarks Ordinance was initiated in 2011, and continued in subsequent years by the Chairs of the Topeka Landmarks Commission. The impetus for the update was to clarify and streamline the duties assigned to the Topeka Planning Department and the Topeka Landmarks Commission.
Among the most significant changes to the Ordinance was the allowance of the designation of local commercial historic districts. This allowance is especially significant since it preserves the City’s standing as a Certified Local Government, thus enabling the acquisition of federal funding for future preservation projects.
Between March, 2013 and January, 2014, the ordinance was discussed in depth by the Topeka Landmarks Commission, the Topeka Planning Commission, and the general public and business interests. On May 13, 2014, the ordinance was presented and adopted by the Topeka City Council.
Topeka Worth Saving - 2014 is the inaugural year for the Topeka Worth Saving Endangered Properties List. The intention of this program is to provide the citizens of Topeka the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding the future of Topeka’s architectural and cultural heritage. It is hoped that Topeka Worth Saving will call attention to Topeka’s most threatened historic resources, and provide the means to communicate their concerns to our city’s government, business, and civic leaders.
Properties identified by this list may include a wide variety of structures, such as government buildings, private and individual homes, churches, commercial buildings, and community schools, all spanning the architectural history of our city and nation. All of these properties are also threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, public policy, or insensitive development.
Topeka Worth Saving is not a commemorative or celebratory list, though the unveiling of the list draws much-needed awareness to threatened historic sites across our city. Communication of this list to the broader public may raise local awareness of the threats facing these icons of our history, and facilitate the generation of resources necessary to address these threats. While we expect many of these properties identified as endangered to be saved or rehabilitated, the announcement of the list acknowledges there is still much work to be done.
Nominations will be accepted throughout the year. Nomination forms for the 2015 Topeka Worth Saving Endangered Properties List can be found here. All nominations will be considered by the Landmarks Commission, and presented to the Topeka City Council in May, to coincide with National Historic Preservation Month.