Topeka’s Historic Clock Tower Hit by Vandals

July 6, 2006

Insurance adjusters can barely begin to estimate the damage to The Menninger clock tower, a Topeka landmark for more than seven decades. Already declared unsafe, investigators continue to try to find the vandals who caused extensive damage to the historic structure.

Maintenance workers last week discovered the damage to the building, which the owners said was almost completely renovated and about to be leased for office space. Those plans are now on hold as officials schedule emergency repair work and insurance adjusters try to tally the damage.

Randall Listrom, a former Topeka police officer now organizing community policing as part of the Safe Streets program, said he was shocked by the amount of damage and estimates a number of people broke into the building a week or two ago.

He said the vandals caused extensive damage on each of the tower’s five floors, as well as to the clock face and observation deck.

“In my 29 years as a law enforcement officer, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a building attacked so savagely,” Listrom said. “This is the result of someone being very, very angry. Someone spent a great deal of time in here. This was not one hour of kids having a good time.”

Russ Petty, one of the building’s new owners, said most the interior and exterior windows are broken.

“The adjuster for our insurance company stopped counting windows at 250,” he said.

The 77-year-old tower’s status as a registered historic building makes repairs difficult because the owners must find glass and woodwork similar to the original construction.

Besides the glass, the vandals destroyed a first-floor leasing office, turned over a bookcase in the building’s library, set a fire in a restroom, destroyed bathroom fixtures, left piles of human waste in one room, destroyed an elevator control panel and spray-painted obscenities throughout the building.

Listrom said much of the damage seemed personal, leading him to think it was the work of former employees or clients of the Menninger campus, which treated the mentally ill until 2003, when the clinic moved to Houston, Texas.

Roy Menninger, who served as president and chief executive of the clinic from 1967 to 1993, said he doubted the vandals were connected to the campus, but he was still dismayed by the damage.

“The building was the most visible and most significant of all the buildings (on campus), and this would be tragic no matter that history,” Menninger said. “But it’s like a twist of the knife in a wound when the vandalism seems directed at Menningers.”

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