Morrell Packing History
Morrell Packing Plant building #50, 220 N. Quincy (Quincy & Crane) just north of Crane--a complex of buildings alongside and east of the Kansas Avenue Bridge. (1880-1940). Charles Wolff, Sr. started a small slaughtering establishment in Topeka in the 1870s. Fifty years later the Wolff Packing Company employed more than 500 workers and distributed its products around the world. The complex includes a number of buildings that were erected for Wolff Packing Company before it was purchased by the John Morrell and Sons Packing Company in 1931. The cold storage plant, at the southwest corner of the complex was erected in 1909-1910. The 7-story structure (see above photograph) was built for Morrell by F.M. Spencer & Sons in 1939-1940
Written by John Davis, February 2011
If this building could talk--what would it say? What would it say to every driver and passenger passing over the Kansas Avenue bridge? Maybe a better question is "what does it say"? Does it say much about today's Topekans--a new breed of Topekans who don't mind tearing down our history and it's unique, turn-of-the-century landmarks? Do they even have a clue as to how strong most of these buildings were--and still are? How many realize that many are even strong enough to withstand another century or two with new destinies and re definitions. Such was the original community theatre--so strong and well built that the demolishing crew felt great pain and sadness as they tore it down. It seemed so useless.
This old Morrell Meat building still stands and withstands years of neglect and abuse. If it could just feel, it would be a sad building--just standing there in humiliation--full well knowing what a crowning glory it could still be. If it could dream--it may just dream of a second life over-shadowing even the State Capitol Building as people pass over the bridge and look at it restored to an art form. In a way it does feel--through the hearts of its beholders as they gaze at it's embarrassingly deteriorating state. Not even a single window to protect it from the weather. Are there any here who could do the dreaming for it--who may offer it a second life of a century or two? I think many of us are on hand. I believe our citizens could, and should do it out of the respect of those who built it. Lowell Manis asks in his letter (home page)--if there are any of us left who are deserving of what our ancestors left us. (Mostly now destroyed). At one time, if this building could remember, it would remember a time when we were a finished product in the highest art form--a shining beautiful city playing second fiddle to no one. Who are we now? I believe the old packing plant building is a monument, not of who made Topeka so unique---but of who we are now. Look in its face. Does it tell us who we have become?
I remember the other buildings that shared the area with the old packing plant when I was a railroad photographer, how a railroad track curved into the "yard" off of Quincy Street and northward. The buildings were also curved to conform to the track's curve as Quincy entered into the property. What a view. It's mostly gone now. It all happened while I "slept" apparently. I went down there to photograph the old Morrell Meat building this last December, and lo and behold--the buildings south of it were gone! See the photos below taken in the late '80's.
I'll interject another demolishing tidbit here unrelated to the Morrell Meat building and Hills owned property: I drove through the old state hospital grounds the other day doing a time table of a proposed track route and trying to envision how the streetcar tracks could revitalize the area as a unique "people place"for pedestrians, bikers and tourists and I was shocked to see that all the buildings were gone along "Kanza Drive." This was one of my favorite places to walk back when I lived near Story Street and 1st. So I thought to myself--"Oh well, there is one masterpiece of a brick building on the corner of Quincy and Kanza Drive. It's still there, I thought, because the City Transit bus turns around there and I saw it in October. But I arrived to see a pile of rubble and brick. The old building had been "executed." Thanks 501 school district. You do miraculous work. The old Morrell building is certainly a testament to your attitude about Topeka's skyline and neighborhood scapes. Maybe it is a monument of today's education compared to effective education during hay day of elementary and high school education-- demolished in the name of education.
Just look at the old Morrell Meat building standing there now. Maybe it just tells the 501 District's story in stone silence better than words thundered from above.
continued next column . . .
If the old building could think and dream, would it maybe dream about itself becoming a part of the now "River Front" theme? Do you think it deserves it? Would it see itself as the crowning glory of the River Front and serving as the headquarters of all River Front activity ?--Wow. Now that's really dreaming! Would the old building see itself embellished with wedding suites, model rail dioramas of both the ATSF and Union Pacific taking up a floor or two? What about a club on the top floor, a restaurant on the bottom, a coffee shop running 24 hours a day as well as a main terminal for streetcar passengers. Would it envision having tracks curving around it just like the old days--except street car tracks for the River Front Zephyr? Just before being rudely awakened (and you know how that always goes!) would it envision a Japanese garden in the northeast corner for visitors to enjoy? A big neon sign--old style--on top saying "River Front Terminal?" If the old building could "know" anything--it just might envision itself as a proverbial "gold mine" for those who own it and for those who might restore it. Could that be the natural result of hundreds of thousands of annual tourists being delivered to its door via the permanency of the fixed infrastructure of steel rails bringing them there?
And before being awakened to stark reality, would the old building envision itself as being the happiest spot in town--sort of a welcome to Topeka landmark? And while we are doing it's dreaming for it--let's make it shout to those passing over the Kansas Avenue bridge, "hey look at me now, my friends who lie in the graveyards would be proud of me, and I'm glad that you, their children are too!"
click photos once to enlarge, twice for maximum enlargement.
click photos once to enlarge, twice for maximum enlargement.
Charlotte, NC Trolley
Morrell Meats 7-Story Building
Morrell Meat 7-Story Building
click photo once to enlarge, twice for maximum enlargement.
JTDavis copyright 2011 Photography and Photoshop
Please let this Morrell Meat building talk to us. Let us seek laws preventing new owners of properties containing old historic landmarks from demolishing these treasures. Let us seek codes which regulate the usage of these buildings. Please write to The Steel Rails Advocate about your ideas of such laws and codes. Go to Contact Us.
I met with Jeff Smith, the "owner" of the property--held by the Hills Pet Foods corporation in February. The property at the crane street location was recently purchased by the corporation. Mr. Smith told me that he didn't have any history on the seven-story building. No information about history was given to the corporation with the purchase of the property.
Now, we know everything about the building that there is to know--how it is constructed on the inside and outside, what materials were used, the allocation of space inside of the building, what original meat products were produced there and much more. Check out the links to the left on the old Capital Journal articles from 1940.
Myself and Kristina Smith shared some ideas with Jeff Smith about what an official light rail plan could mean to old landmarks in Topeka. Maybe an unrealized destiny for the old building may just be according to our fictitious "dream" of the Old Morrell Meat building--all in the hopes that our "dreaming old building" may just awaken someday to a dream come true--for all of us. That would be a WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN situation for: Hills Inc., The City of Topeka, The River Front Project, Tourists visiting Topeka, and the citizens of Topeka.
Do you remember the Rock Island Freight Depot just south of 1st Street? Goodby ol' friend.