Dillon House, Greenfield Opera House

(Frank) Today Deb Bisel takes us on a tour of the Dillon House, featuring early pictures of the property; the work-in-progress pictures of this historical renovation and what this beautiful house looks like today. Next we learn about this week’s From The Land of Kansas business and then we’ll finish up with a story about the Greenfield Opera House and its unique cast iron facade.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

(Frank) Good morning, I’m Frank Chaffin. (Deb) I’m Deb Goodrich Bisel. (Frank) And we’re gonna pump you up. Oh no, that’s another show. Hey good morning, this is Around Kansas and what we’re gonna kind of talk to you about, some things that we’re gonna do here on Around Kansas on our new show. (Deb) And we’re coming to you from the Dillon House this morning. This is our new home away from home, if you will. So, we’re just thrilled to be in this beautiful location and we’re gonna tell you a lot more about it. (Frank) Now Deb, of course is an historian and published author and most of her stories are about historical figures, historical places around that state, kind of elaborate on that. (Deb) Well, if you were dead, I would find you so much more interesting. That’s pretty much how it goes. Yea. So, I talk a lot about dead people and I live in a cemetery too. (Frank) And I’ve been in entertainment all my life, so what I do is stories about people and places and things. I’m doing a tour of opera houses around the state of Kansas. You know, the state of Kansas has a great, great heritage of actors, writers, musicians and so that’s kind of the thing that I like to do. (Deb) I think you’re stepping on my toes there Frank. (Frank) Well, a little bit. (Deb) I really like the opera houses and you know I love music and so I really think we gotta draw some boundaries here, you know… (Frank) Yea, yea, yea, yea. (Deb)…and stay in your lane Frank. (Frank) Okay. Well, I’ve done a couple historical things and I of course, didn’t check with her, but I guess in the future, I’m gonna have to. (Deb) And Frank also, of course, has WREN radio resurrected. That’s really cool Frank. (Frank) Well, thank you yes, WREN radio, of course, has an 87 year history in the state of Kansas and we resurrected it on the internet four years ago and our audience just continues to grow. It’s wrenradio.net. So tune in. (Deb) It’s amazing. Listeners, I mean thousands and thousands and so I know that I pop in every now and then, the studio’s actually over in NOTO, the arts district in Topeka. And I pop in and Les or you will be on the air and tell me how many numbers you guys are getting and it’s staggering. And the fans who are calling in, taking requests. It’s going really well. (Frank) It is, thank you for the plug. (Deb) Hey! (Frank) In fact, in the spring there’s gonna be a history geeks tour of the NOTO Arts District and we’re hosting it – Around Kansas and WREN radio. (Deb) Hey and if you’re around Kansas and you don’t get to be part of the history geeks, you just let me and Frank know, we’ll give you a tour of anything you want to see, whether it’s in Topeka, whether it’s around the state. In fact, I’m doing a tour up at Fort Leavenworth on April 8th with one of the retirement homes. So, yea, nothing we love more than showing off Kansas. (Frank) And the reason we’re doing the show is because the state of Kansas really does have a lot of interesting people and places. And even people in Kansas aren’t aware of that, so hopefully we’re going to let you know about those fun places to go, day trips and things like that. (Deb) Well, you know I’m a transplant, so I am a real cheerleader for all that incredible stuff around Kansas. And I see it with fresh eyes. So, that’s really helpful, some of the things that you may not have noticed along the way, we’re gonna share those with you. (Frank) Ya. So we’ll see you somewhere… (Deb) Around Kansas. (Frank) Around Kansas.

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas from the historic Dillon House in downtown Topeka, just right across from the Capitol. And with me is Michael Langfitt, who is President of the Dillon House Events, LLC. And I can’t imagine a better place to have an event than right here Michael, this is gorgeous. (Michael) Thank you. We’re happy to have you. We’re glad that it’s finally done and you can be here. (Deb) Well, it has been an incredible project, so we’re going to take our viewers all the way through the house today, so we’ll show ’em a little bit of everything. And we’re just thrilled that the Dillon House is going to be our base of operations for Around Kansas from now on. So, this is… we’re gonna call it home. And we want to start, I guess, with the history of the Dillon House, you know, when it was built and what the property was initially. (Michael) Sure, well initially on this land there was another house. In 1907 Hiram and Susie Dillon moved to Topeka from New York and they bought a house about six blocks south of here on Harrison. As they became more and more involved with the community they realized that they had a lot of friends that were political. Now, they weren’t political themselves, but they wanted a place to entertain their friends. So, they decided to build this home on this spot as it became available in a very ornate and grand scale. It’s an Italian Renaissance style. They started it in 1911. They moved in sometime in spring of 1914. And it is built in the craftsmanship that really just doesn’t exist in a lot of places anymore. (Deb) Oh absolutely and when you talk about this home was built for entertaining, it still is. And in your remodel or restoration, I don’t even know the right word for what you’ve accomplished here, you’ve have stayed true to that footprint. (Michael) Thank you. It’s called a historical renovation. We don’t bring it back to exact duplicate details, museum quality, but we stay very true to the historic elements. We preserve the historic elements and identify them as best we can. But there are some historic elements that were removed through different owners throughout time. We have gone to great strides to replace those or put back what it might have looked like, so that customers, guests, visitors can come in and see what it was like to live in an elegant mansion of this size before World War I. (Deb) Now who actually owns the house now? (Michael) The house is currently owned by Dillon House LLC, which is owned by Pioneer Group Incorporated, owned by Ross Freeman and his family. (Deb) So, there are business offices here and space to rent for the public right? (Michael) Correct, correct. Because historic restoration and renovation is what we do as a part of our business, we decided to create basically a show place, for what work we do. Our offices will actually be located on the second and third floor, but the first floor is being kept open for public rental venue. The Dillons were very much into entertaining and that’s what we’ve returned the first floor to is allowing the public of Kansas, and non-Kansans from around the world to be entertained yet again. (Deb) Well, I just can’t wait to attend my first party here. And I know that there’s so many people out there that are gonna wanna do the same thing. Stay with us we’re gonna show you a little more of the Dillon House when we come back.

(Deb) I am visiting this morning with Michael Langfitt who is the President of the Dillon House, LLC and in charge of this lovely space all around us. Now, Michael when this house was purchased what were you facing? What was… what kind of shape was it in then? (Michael) We were the fifth, we are the fifth owner to own the Dillon House. It had experienced quite a bit of challenge, stress. The last owner was the State of Kansas. The used the house very actively for many of the years that they owned it, particularly the first floor. Back in the late 80s there was a fire in the roof. And while the fire damage itself didn’t cause a lot of damage, putting out the fire did some very unfriendly things to the house. So, what we were looking at was a house that had been basically, maybe not ideally cared for, for a number of years. So, we had to replace much of… well let’s put it this way, there’s not a single square inch in the house that we haven’t touched- floors, walls, or ceiling. (Deb) Well it shows, it shows. (Michael) Thank you. (Deb) Now this was owned by an insurance company for a while? (Michael) In 1940, American Home Life Insurance bought the house and converted the house to their offices and they did some things to modify the house to make it more suitable for their offices. You have to remember at that point in time, it was a 30 year old house; it wasn’t a hundred year old house like it is now. (Deb) Right. (Michael) So, they made it useful to them taking away what we now would call many of the historic elements. So we’ve tried to replicate what those might have looked like. (Deb) Now, one of the things that they did, if I remember correctly, is take off the sun porches. (Michael) Correct. (Deb)… on the east side of the home. (Michael) Yea, there was an open air pergola, two story that had a beautiful lattice work, stone columns on the first floor and stone hermes on the second floor. We have removed the building that they put there and replaced it with a fully enclosed glass structure so we can actually use the space but it looks very much like the open air pergola that it did before. Both the first floor and the second floor. (Deb) And got a little more usable space there too. (Michael) Quite a bit, quite a bit. (Deb) Plus that opened up that light which was originally… the light in this house is really amazing. The windows are just gorgeous and of course, behind us we’ve got these beautiful stained glass windows. Now the stained glass that is here, that’s original, right? (Michael) Yes it is, yes. The Dillon family were patrons of the arts. We understand that they have collected most of this artwork and stained glass on their travels and then had the windows custom made. The miracle of the stained glass behind us it’s actually Alfred Lord Tennyson’s story of Lancelot and Guinevere told in stained glass. The miracle is that it’s been there for 104 years and has never been broken. And has never been protected until earlier this week. That is now protected. (Deb) Thanks goodness. Thank goodness, because it’s just stunning And then there’s stained glass in the library as well and that library is just every book lovers dream, like myself. And I think you said originally there was leather on the walls of the library. (Michael) In the library they originally had like a sage green, tumbled leather on the wall. So what we did was we replicated that look with a paint process to give it the same look and feel that they would have had in 1911 when they built the house. (Deb) And it’s not nearly the cost, I’m sure, of covering with leather. (Michael) Well we wanted to do it justice, but we also had to make certain that it could be viable. (Deb) Well, I’m sure. It’s gorgeous. (Michael) Thank you. (Deb) Stay with us, we’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome back to the historic Dillon House in downtown Topeka. Now Michael, I got to observe a lot of the work that was going on here. How many artisans and carpenters and all other craftsman did you have to have working on this house? (Michael) There were over 300 talented artisans and crafts people that worked on this house. (Deb) Wow, wow. (Michael) And I to be very candid with you, the talent that they have doesn’t exist just anywhere. So, our general contractor that has worked with us for a number of years, has built an amazing collection of the most talented people possible. They know how to treat and how to respect a historic structure such as this. (Deb) Well it was really amazing to walk through while they working and it was obvious that they knew what they were doing and they were really into it. And I was just talking about the coffered, is that the right word? (Michael) Coffered ceiling yes. (Deb) Coffered ceiling in the dining room and I was in here when they were staining that. There must be nine miles of trim in there. It is trim on trim on trim. And staining that, holy cow! (Michael) Well, that’s an amazing story the carpenter, the carpenters that put that up there, I was complimenting them one day on their work. And they said, you don’t understand mostly we work with not the very best wood there is. Everything that has been put back in this house is top of the line. That is all quarter sawn white oak, which normal carpenters don’t work with on a day to day basis. (Deb) Sure. In one of the beams that wraps one of the dividing walls, there are over 40 individual pieces of wood to create that beam. It’s truly a work of art. All of the crafts people looked at it as creating their own version of their own Mona Lisa. (Deb) So, they were pretty thrilled to have the opportunity. (Michael) They were honored and thrilled, yes. (Deb) Well, it’s just a stunning work. And I’m just thrilled too that we can be here on a regular basis. I mean, these gorgeous fire places. I mean there’s just so much beautiful stuff here. You must be thrilled to have an office here. (Michael) I feel very blessed, yes, yes I do. It’s not just an office, it’s kind of become my second home. Not just because there’s been a lot of hours here, but because the place grows on you. (Deb) Sure. (Michael) When we first took it over, we all kind of looked at each other and like, OK, here we go. And there many times that we said, OK, what have we gotten ourselves into? But the end result is… it’s mind boggling. (Deb) It truly is and it just speaks to the heart of our capital city to have this right next to the Capitol for so many events and functions. And it’s a treasure. It’s just an absolute treasure. (Michael) Well, thank you. (Deb) Kudos to everybody involved. (Michael) Well as you know, the Capitol did a little renovation of their own, so we decided it was only fair that we try to keep our end of the neighborhood. (Deb) I think that’s exactly appropriate. And we were just talking about that the other day about the Capitol restoration and then with this coming along. So Michael if the public, if anybody out there would like to rent this gorgeous space, have an event here how can they do that? (Michael) Very simple, two things- email us at info@dillonhouse.com, that’s D-I-L-L-O-N HOUSE.com or go to the website www.dillonhouse.com and you can look at all the information. We respond very quickly and we’re on a first come, first serve basis and we’re already booking events out into 2017 so come and get it while we still have it. (Deb) That’s fantastic. And you guys have a Facebook page? (Michael) We do. That’s Dillonhouse.16 on Facebook. We try to update pictures and events coming up there. We held our first event Saturday night. It was a wedding reception and it was… let’s just say the Dillon House has not seen that kind of entertainment in a number of years. (Deb) Well it was a house created for that, so it’s gotta just come alive. (Michael) It seemed to. (Deb) It’s just got to come alive. And folks we’re just so thrilled that Around Kansas is going to be coming to you from the Dillon House every week. So, be sure and watch for us every Wednesday morning and maybe we’ll just find a new corner to shoot in every time. We’ll see ya. (Michael) Thanks Deb.

From The Land of Kansas is a trademark program that helps Kansas businesses grow, produce, process or manufacture Kansas products. Many Farmers Markets statewide are From the Land of Kansas members. They are on the frontline delivering fresh produce, homemade delicacies and unique handmade items. Today let’s catch up with The Emporia Farmers Market. From May to October this market is outside, located in the parking lot at 7th and Merchant. From November to April it moves indoors to the Emporia Humanitarian Center at 215 West 6th Avenue. The mission of the Emporia Farmers Market is to enhance community health via locally grown fresh agricultural and related products and information. A 30-year old organization, the Emporia Farmers Market is a project of The Learning Connection of the Flint Hills. All vendors must grow, bake or make the products they sell themselves. To find out more, visit www.EmporiaFarmersMarket.org.

(Frank) Good morning, I’m Frank Chaffin and this is Around Kansas. This is a show where we let you know why Kansas is a great place to live, and work, and play, and visit. And as you know we’re kind of taking a tour of the opera houses around the state of Kansas because as you know Kansas has a couple of railroads or so running through it. Well as the railroads moved on west, towns popped up along the way. And many of those towns built opera houses. The one we’re gonna tell you about today and if you don’t mind I’m gonna use notes because I don’t have that great of memory. Anyway, the opera house we’re gonna talk to you about today is the Grainfield Opera House, which is in Grainfield, which is in Gove County. Grainfield was established in 1879. It got its name from a wheat field that was near the site of the founding of the town. And so the railroad of course came and then went on through and the town was established and they built of course, a school and a church and a bank, and then an opera house. The opera house construction began in 1887 and it was completed in 1888 and then somebody moved into it. And the first tenant in the new opera house in Grainfield was the Cap Sheaf Newspaper, Cap Sheaf Newspaper. Now the Grainfield Opera House is a little bit different. It is a three story structure and had businesses in it as well as it being a meeting place. And a place for of course the musical groups and theatrical groups and all of that, that were touring the country would come and do performances. Anyway, the Grainfield Opera House is on the Historic Register. And the reason is because of its rather unique architecture. The… it is one of the two opera houses still standing with ornate cast iron and galvanized fronts, made by the Mesker Brothers. Now who are the Mesker Brothers? They were a company in St. Louis that built storefronts and actually cast iron fronts for opera houses and other structures. Well, the Mesker Brothers have done the facade for the Grainfield Opera House and therefore it qualifies to be on the Historic Structures. It was one of them that did not get torn down. That’s the problem with a lot of the opera houses around the state is that a lot of them simply got torn down. This one though, is under reconstruction and renovation as some of the others are in the state of Kansas. So, the next time you are around in Gove County and you go through Grainfield, be sure to stop off and take a look at the Grainfield Opera House. It’s another great place for you to visit, Around Kansas.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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