Pioneer Motive Power Place - Histotic Postcard
Pioneer Motive Power Place – Historic Postcard Above
(Renovation Began June 2011)


Project Name: Pioneer Motive Power Place
Project Location: Topeka, Kansas
Completion Date: December 2012 (estimated)
Size: 75,000 sq ft.
Architect: Architect One, P.A.
General Contractor: Wolkamp Construction Co.
Special Non-Profit Partner: Historic Preservation Partners

Project Description:

This development project involves the acquisition and renovation of an historic office building, and converting that building to accommodate 58 affordable apartment units marketed for people age 55 and better. Construction work began in June 2011. The north half of the building (featured in the historic postcard above) should be completed and ready for occupancy in the summer of 2012, with the rest of the building completed at the end of the year. The office building is being converted into 43 one-bedroom apartment units, 12 two-bedroom units, and 3 studio apartments. Each apartment will enjoy modern energy efficient amenities that include individual central HVAC, individual water heaters, refrigerator, range, dishwasher, and disposal, kitchen exhaust fan, plus central laundry facilities on each floor. The building also will have a number of common areas for meetings and recreation.

Historical Significance:

As part of a preliminary site review, the Kansas State Historical Society considered both the architecture of the building, and the role this property has played in history. Contributing greatly to the areas’ rapid growth, Santa Fe Railroad (also known as the ATSF or Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe, and more recently as the BNSF or Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad) relocated their shops to the Oakland community in 1902 and built the Branner Street Viaduct for access to their shops and their planned office building.  Excavation began for the new Santa Fe Shop Office Building, named the Motive Power Building, in 1909, and that building was placed into service in 1915.  The new structure housed the motive power offices and mechanical departments.  It was built of reinforced concrete and local newspaper stories stated the building was built to be “modern in every detail.” Oakland was annexed into the City of Topeka in 1925.  The building was expanded in 1931 with a large addition on the south basically doubling the size of the building.  The Motive Power Building continually served as railroad offices until 2002, and remained unoccupied until our acquisition in 2011.

In addition to its role serving the railroad as one of their early, modern office buildings, the building may have ties to the game of softball. According to a May 1997 article in the Kansas State Historical Society newsletter, a group of ATSF (Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe) Railway employees contributed to the evolution of the game of softball, modifying the rules and equipment of the game in 1916 – they played on the lot south of the Motive Power Bldg. There also are reports that the team later wanted to practice in the winter using the auditorium at the south end of third floor in the 1931 addition to this building. To minimize possible damage, one of the team members took the baseball to the railcar upholstery shop, and asked they add padding and a cover for the ball. Many believe that action too contributed to the beginnings and development of the game of softball.

The Building's Physical Appearance:

The structure is comprised of two parts: the north portion is the original building, constructed in 1915. It is a 3-story concrete structure. The south portion of the building was constructed as an addition in 1931. It is a 4-story concrete structure with a connecting bay that includes an underground loading dock between the two parts (forming a “U”-shaped plan). Both structures have basements that are partially above grade and are defined by an exposed concrete skeleton grid that has been painted white. Each bay within the grid generally is comprised of red brick walls and metal replacement windows resembling the style of the original windows. The north façade is the front of the original building (shown above in the historic postcard); it is symmetrical with a central entrance, raised above grade. The entry is framed by a stone entablature with fluted round Doric columns. The north building is capped by a simple stepped stone cornice with large brackets at each bay. The BNSF insignia is located in the center of the cornice over the entrance.

The south building is distinguished from the north by its height and treatment of the building cap. It has a stone cornice band with a brick parapet and simple stone cap but replicates the brackets on the original building. The 4th floor window in the center of the west side of the south addition is a tripartite unit with a stone surround. A stone panel with the BNSF insignia is inset in the center of the parapet. The primary entrance into the south building is located at the south end of the west façade and defined by a stone surround. Original extant features include stairways with cast-iron railings and newel posts, and the auditorium with original balcony, proscenium and stage.

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