A new restaurant is expected to open this spring in the former First National Bank building at the northeast corner of Eighth and Massachusetts.
Local architect Bob Gould and his wife, Karen, purchased the building, part of which dates to 1888, on Jan. 2. The couple have leased it to an ownership group represented by Brad Nelson, an operator of Molly McGee's bar and restaurant, 2429 Iowa, and Talk of the Town, a restaurant in Overland Park.
Gould said the building, which has been vacant for several years, will require extensive remodeling, in addition to the installation of a kitchen.
Gould said plans call for construction of a mezzanine area and expansion of the building east into vacant space that lies between the building and the alley behind it.
He said he currently was obtaining construction permits for the work, which would commence soon.
"WE'RE HOPING that the restaurant will be open in April," he said.
Nelson, who declined to discuss the restaurant's theme in any detail, said it will serve lunch and dinner.
"It's not going to be anything like Molly McGee's in terms of menu or atmosphere," he said.
Molly McGee's, which carries a sports bar concept, features a sandwich menu.
Nelson said the remodeling plans would attempt to preserve the building's features.
"There are some physical characteristics of the building that are going to be important to our concept," he said.
However, Nelson noted that many of the bank's interior fixtures, such as the old teller cages and some of the interior marble, were removed previously. Among items that remain from the bank is a 20,000-pound vault door.
THE GOULDS purchased the building from the Kansas University Endowment Association, which received the structure as a gift from First National Bank in 1972. In subsequent years, the building was used by KU's Division of Continuing Education and housed a portion of its audio-visual center.
The building has not been used as a banking facility since 1970, when First National Bank moved to its current headquarters at Ninth and Massachusetts.
Steve Jansen, director of the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum, said museum records indicate the building housed Merchants National Bank from its construction in 1888 until 1930, when the name was changed to First National Bank.
THE BANK then was owned by the William Docking family, whose later generations would dominate Kansas Democratic politics by producing two governors and a lieutenant governor.
The Docking family, which purchased the bank in 1914, remained involved in its operation for 45 years, Jansen said.
Also in 1930, Jansen said, a tower and the building's third story were removed and the lower two floors were transformed into a single-story building with a high ceiling. The building was extended 25 feet to the north to create additional office space.
At that time, the original front wall, which had a rounded southwest corner, was replaced by the limestone facade the building still bears today.