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Saving a printing legacy: artwork on The Eagle’s building

One of four friezes on the front of The Wichita Eagle building. (March 16, 2017)
One of four friezes on the front of The Wichita Eagle building. (March 16, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

As The Eagle prepares to leave its building for a new space in Old Town, there is a mystery at 825 E. Douglas.

The beautiful concrete friezes on the front of The Eagle building were created, most likely, when the building belonged to The Wichita Beacon and was owned by the Levand family.

The four friezes depicting the history of communications were removed from The Wichita Eagle building Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (Video by Beccy Tanner / The Wichita Eagle)

The historical records on the friezes – including who created them and when they were installed – have long since been lost. A Levand family member is uncertain about the origin of the friezes.

Charles McAfee, the architect who designed the building’s additions after The Eagle bought it in 1960, said he does not know who created the artwork.

The Wichita Art Museum does not know.

Nor does Dora Timmerman Bayer, who, during the 1990s, helped compile a list of all of Kansas’ sculptures.

The four 2-by-5-foot friezes – in a modernistic art form –may depict the various ways of story telling through time, as well as the history of print.

What we do know is that the four 2-by-5-foot friezes – in a modernistic art form – may depict the various ways of storytelling through time, as well as the history of print.

The first frieze shows hieroglyphics, a bison, tools and scrolls. The second depicts stone tablets, and the third a printing press and perhaps a portable printer’s tray. The fourth is how the stories arrive in people’s homes.

The Eagle is inviting readers to tell us what they know about the friezes.

The next step is how to go about saving them. The building will be razed beginning May 1.

The Eagle does not have room in its new building in Old Town Square for the friezes. Discussions have taken place among Eagle executives, developers Dave Burk and Dave Wells, and local artists about the possible preservation of the friezes.

The Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County also is interested in acquiring and preserving them.

At issue are four (4) concrete/composite panels on the north side of the old Beacon building. From top to bottom, they represent a continuum of the progress of communication. This is a very mid-century modern impressionistic piece of work or art.

Greg Kite, an attorney and president of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County

“At issue are four (4) concrete/composite panels on the north side of the old Beacon building,” Greg Kite, an attorney and president of the group, wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle. “From top to bottom, they represent a continuum of the progress of communication. This is a very mid-century modern impressionistic piece of work or art.

“Certainly, as unique as they are, they deserve to be preserved and enjoyed for future generations.”

Kite’s group is best known for trying to stop the demolition of historic buildings. When that fails, it collects the pieces.

Some of its preservation efforts have included saving artifacts and architecturally significant pieces from the Allis Hotel, the Joyland amusement park, the Michigan Building, the Livestock Exchange Building on East 21st Street and the Crest Theatre.

“The demolition of the building does not necessitate the loss of these wonderful representations,” Kite wrote of the friezes.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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