Archive for Sunday, October 3, 2004

Historic landmarks dot city

Buildings, towers remind of significant events from Lawrence’s past

October 3, 2004


Through the doors of every building lies a story, a past.

Lawrence's long and rich history is reflected by its local landmarks. Some are left to memories and most have changed through the years, but residents can catch a glimpse of the evolution of the city and its people through stone and brick, metal and glass.

The Eldridge Hotel was born about the same time as Lawrence. According to a history on its Web site, the hotel at 701 Mass. was built in 1855 by a group from the New England Emigrant Aid Company, which founded Lawrence.

Then called the Free State Hotel, the hotel was burned to the ground in 1856 by a group of pro-slavery forces. Col. Shalor Eldridge rebuilt the hotel, which stood until Quantrill's Raid in 1863.

Eldridge built the hotel again and changed its name to The Hotel Eldridge.

Guests at the Eldridge could choose among 48 rooms and enjoy the hotel's barber shop, shoe-shining services, coffee shop and restaurant.

Steve Jansen, former director of the Watkins Community Museum of History, said construction of a full-service hotel boosted Lawrence's reputation.

"The Eldridge Hotel was seen as a sign that the city was modern and up-to-date," Jansen said.

After the once-grand lodging began to deteriorate in 1925, Billy Hutson, local businessman, made renovations to the structure. The Eldridge closed as a hotel in 1970 and was converted into apartments, but it was restored as a hotel in 1985 by Lawrence developer Rob Phillips. The hotel now is facing bankruptcy and will be sold in a public auction on Oct. 12.

Paul Getto, Lawrence, was a bellhop in 1935 and worked in the hotel for three years while he attended Kansas University. Getto said he hoped the Eldridge would continue as a hotel.

"It was designed as a hotel, and it would be too bad to lose it," he said.

Towering tower

Joining the Eldridge Hotel downtown is the Southwestern Bell tower. The tower was built in 1978 despite concerns the 155-foot structure would be a city eyesore.

Gould Evans Associates' architect firm designed the Italian-style tower and later placed brick around the structure to make it more pleasing to the eye, said Karl Gridley, a local historian.

The tower was decommissioned in 1997 as a microwave tower and now serves Lawrence as a mobile phone tower for Cingular Wireless, said Don Brown, spokesman for SBC Communications Inc. in Topeka.

Windmill power

One of Lawrence's first historical sites was in town for only a short time. An 80-foot Dutch-style windmill was built in 1864 at what today is the intersection of Ninth and Emery streets. A fire in 1905 destroyed the windmill and some of the surrounding buildings.

John Peterson, local historian and former volunteer at the Watkins museum, said the eight-sided structure was about 55 feet in diameter. He said the windmill ceased operations in 1880 after water mills arrived and made grinding easier and faster.

"It just wasn't economical to operate (the windmill) anymore," Peterson said.

Railroad revival

The Union Pacific Railroad also faced competition from other forms of transportation and eventually stopped receiving and sending passengers in 1971. When the railroad ceased its freight service in Lawrence in 1984, company members wanted to tear down the then-useless depot just across the Massachusetts Street Bridge in North Lawrence.

According to the Lawrence Information Center, the first depot was constructed in the 1860s and renovated in the late '80s. When talk of destroying the depot surfaced in 1984, Mike Wildgen, then assistant city manager, and a group of concerned residents discussed the situation with Union Pacific.

Union Pacific later gave the depot to the city. Renovations lasted from 1991 to 1996. About $1,050,000 in grants, city donations and other donations was used for the complete renovation of the depot and the surrounding area.

The depot is now home to the Lawrence Information Center. It is used for weddings, parties, community meetings, baby showers and even funerals.

"It's always been a part of Lawrence's history," said Sonia Reetz, co-manager of the

Lawrence Information Center. "It's now more like a community center for the people."

This year, a new landmark was added to the landmark, with installation and dedication of the Memorial of Honor. Its centerpiece is a soaring sculpture depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes, honoring those from Douglas County who have fallen in service.

Kansas University is also home to several historic buildings and sites, including two towering structures: Fraser Hall and the Campanile.

Fraser: Part 1, 2

Fraser Hall sits on the highest point on campus between Watson Library and Danforth Chapel. The present-day Fraser Hall opened in 1967, but the first building at that site opened 95 years earlier.

First called University Hall, the building that is better known as Old Fraser Hall was built in 1870. Its name was later changed to Fraser to honor John Fraser, KU's second chancellor.

Sandra Wiechert, co-founder of the Historic Mount Oread Fund, said the first building had a Victorian/Collegiate Gothic style. "Collegiate Gothic" is a term used to describe Gothic architecture among universities at the turn of the century, Wiechert said.

Ninety-five years after Fraser Hall was built, deterioration became a major concern.

"People could sit on the inside of the building and see daylight through the walls," Wiechert said. "That's how bad it was."

Gridley, the local historian, said his father was an English professor with an office in Old Fraser Hall. Gridley said he remembered visiting his father in his office and seeing large cracks in the wall. An unstable foundation and interior problems made it necessary for something to be done to the building, Gridley said, but the building could have been saved today.

In 1965, despite opposition from historical preservationists, the building was demolished. The new Fraser Hall was built and opened in 1967.

"The political will of the times was just to tear old things down and build new ones," Gridley said. "That era was very hard on historic structures."

Chimes and clappers

A short walk northwest from Fraser Hall will lead passers-by to the campus Campanile.

The Campanile was constructed in 1950 to honor Kansas University students and faculty who died in World War II. It was later renovated from 1994 to 1996. The 120-foot tall building, made of limestone, is accompanied by a 53-bell carillon.

The Campanile and its sound bring a unique atmosphere to campus, said Sara White, Topeka senior.

"When you hear the bells and see the Campanile, you think, 'Oh, you're at KU,' " she said.

Elizabeth Berghout, university carillonneur, plays the bells and teaches students to play, too. Her students and members of the community perform regularly.

"I see it as not just a war memorial but as a symbol of hope and life, Berghout said. "Music is alive and the memories of these people are alive, too."

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