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Larned council votes to raze Opera House
Historic building poses ‘imminent danger’ to public
Larned Opera House
Citing public danger concerns, the Larned City Council voted Monday to raze the Larned Opera House and the Carson Hotel buildings occupying a large portion of the 400 block of Broadway. Demolition will begin immediately following the reception and approval of a demolition bid. - photo by Michael Gilmore

LARNED — One of the first brick buildings built on Broadway Street in Larned will soon be coming down.

The Larned City Council on Monday invoked a state statute authorizing the city to demolish the Opera House, located at 402-410 Broadway, after meeting criteria as an “imminent danger” to public safety. Discussion at the highly-attended meeting included a review of the engineer’s report sought by staff to determine the building’s condition after the Dec. 15 windstorm highlighted concern about the stability of downtown area structures.

Following the review, the council heard from tenants of the building or their representatives, and discussed demolition options and state statutes governing the city’s procedural action regarding dangerous structures.


Following the Dec. 15, 2021 derecho, Larned City Manager Brad Eilts contacted Engineering Consultants, P.A. in Hutchinson to evaluate the structure. EC consultant Chase Brecheisen and Larned Building Inspector Will Tice conducted a walk-through, noting that the building’s continuous upper floor had sustained considerable deterioration and portions of the roof had collapsed. Additionally, the external north wall was observed to be separating from the roof and posed a danger of collapse onto the adjacent occupied single-story building at 412 Broadway. To the south, the exterior wall also had deteriorated, cracked, was out-of-plumb and in danger of collapse. Because the addresses of 402-410 Broadway were essentially one structure and first-floor walls were interdependent, owners or their representatives were informed that demolition of any one portion may impact the structural integrity of the others.

Brecheisen recommended that the occupants of the law office at 412 Broadway vacate their building in the event that the wall began to fail. Tice and city staff installed sidewalk barricades and posted “no entry” notices, with barriers on the doors and windows to prevent entry from the public.  

Report review, discussion

At the meeting, EC owner Brent Engelland met with the council via Zoom to discuss the report and answer questions. He explained that while debris limiting access had prevented a comprehensive evaluation, it was his opinion that enough deterioration had been observed to warrant the razing of the entire structure.

“I have reviewed all the information that Chase gathered on site for me,” he said. “The concern is primarily the condition of the whole Opera House structure. As we reviewed the condition of the north wall, it became apparent there are pretty significant separation cracks. We really recommend that the building to the north not be occupied until the matter can be resolved. The holes in the roof are concerning because the Opera House is different than a lot of the downtown buildings in that it doesn’t have party walls between each section. What that means is that the sections all act together more than other downtown buildings would.

“On the southeast corner, the concern there is that both cracks have enough separation that they effectively render the corner no longer attached to the building.”

Engelland noted that there were several areas that didn’t appear safe to walk in and so the report did not include investigation of the basements in the building.

Mayor William Nusser then invited tenants or their representatives to address the council.

Heather Helvie, owner of 412 Broadway, asked that the city move “with a tremendous sense of urgency,” to resolve the issue and allow her to return to her building and place of business.

Appeal to save portion

Alan Martin, owner-under-contract of the building’s center section at 406 Broadway, said that his was a different situation because he had taken steps to improve his building.

“I should certainly have the option to repair my building after the demolition of the sections to the north and south of me,” he said. “The Opera House was built and somewhere in there was broken into several buildings with separate addresses. You are expected to collect taxes from each address. I’m the only owner of record who is current on paying taxes. I’ve put a lot of my own money into restoration of this building; I’ve put about 15 floor jacks under the floor. Structurally, there is nothing out of sorts.

“I would just ask that my building, which is sound, be left as a part of Larned history. I’m a 1993 Larned graduate; I appreciate the history of Larned and I appreciate the forward movement that Larned has. I see a lot of good things coming Larned’s way and I would love to be able to be a part of that in the future.

“But that being said, I want to do what’s best for the City of Larned. If I’m out my investment, so be it, but I want to do what’s best for the community.”

Appeal to demolish 

Mark Cowell, part owner of 412 Broadway, said that it was a mistake to view the addresses of 402-410 Broadway as separate buildings. “This was one building that the city has carved out condominiums on the first floor for different businesses. There is only one building, it has four corners, and one of the corners as the engineer has explained has fallen away from the building,” he said.

“There is only one roof, and it’s caving in.”

Cowell said that he realized that the situation was rare, and unusual and emotional to deal with a city block as a portion of the community’s history, but there was only one course of action.

“We’re not really here tonight to decide what to do, because there is only one option forward at this point,” he said. “The city has overwhelming evidence that this building is in imminent danger of collapse. This is an undisputed fact.

“Everyone who has inspected this building says that it is in imminent danger of collapse,” he continued. “Beyond that, the city has already taken action under the authority of imminent danger. The city has taken action to remove people from their lawful occupation. The city is now responsible. And every day that the building remains standing while the city doesn’t take them down increases the city’s culpability.

“I’m sorry, it’s a shame. But there is imminent danger of collapse, and the buildings have to come down now.”

Moving to demolish

A poll of the community structured by Mayor Nusser indicated that the building should be demolished at the cost of the owners with no compensation. Responses from 100 residents participating indicated 20.83% favored building to be repaired at the cost of the owners, with 39.58% favoring the building razed at cost of the owner; 18.75% favored the building repaired at city cost, while 20.83% favored the building demolished at city cost. Nearly three-fourths of those participating did not favor compensation to the owners, while 26.53% favored owner compensation.

The council then discussed procedural details in preparing to demolish the Opera House, and also the Carson Hotel building at 400 Broadway to the south. In a roll-call vote, the council unanimously agreed to seek bids for demolition, with a special meeting to be called if more than one bid is received, and plans to begin immediate demolition once a bid is approved.

Larned City Council meeting at a glance

Here is a quick at what the Larned City Council did Monday night:

On the consent agenda:

• Recertified Ralph Streit and Harry Zielke to two-year terms on the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency Board of Directors.

• Approved a letter of engagement for the 2021 city audit and non-auditing services contract for preparation of the 2023 budget as well as other accounting services with Vonfeldt, Bauer and Vonfeldt Chtd.

• Approved a three-month contract extension with Midwest Energy for services including construction, operation, maintenance support and emergency response support for electric lines and services owned by the city.

• Approved a lease agreement with the Fort Larned Arms Association Inc. for maintenance of the Larned Police Pistol Range for access by LPD, Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Kansas Highway Patrol officers.

• Scheduled a work session for Feb. 21 to meet with Greg Wright of Priority Power, to discuss bitcoin rate options and model; solar behind-meter rate issues with current customer; comprehensive solar project update with RFP response to Midwest Energy; rate comparison model comparing Larned to other similarly-situated suppliers and job incentive rates.

In other business:

• Unanimously approved Appropriations Ordinance No. 1 in the amount of $1,076,486.95 plus transfers.

• Heard a presentation from Lisa Schartz, Picket Fence Realty broker. Schartz wished to thank the city council for the opportunity to work on the sale of Prairie Vista Apartments and noted that the contract had closed and the buyers were meeting with residents.

• Heard a presentation from Steve Gross, Larned/Pawnee County airport manager. Gross noted that the Dec. 15 wind damaged the brick hangar roof. Insurance will pay the damage of $30,000 minus the airport’s $5,000 deductible. Gross also noted that both the fuel pump and card reader at the airport was obsolete. Cares Act funding in the amount of $32,000 will be used to replace the unit.

In old business: 

• Tabled action on scope of work approval and estimated costs of water features for the toddler swim area at the Larned Swimming Pool with Rogers, Ark.-based RJR Enterprises. It was determined that questions remained on water supply capacity and the scope of work of 120 days would carry the project past the Memorial Day opening date for the swimming pool. The project was tabled for further discussion following the swimming pool season.

• Approved and passed an ordinance and resolution authorizing the refinancing of the city’s two Kansas Department of Health and Environment loans. The loans were made for the construction of the city’s wastewater plant and for water system improvements.

• Discussed requirements for dispensation of the proceeds from the sale of Prairie Vista Apartments.

• After discussion of the engineer’s report and public comment, unanimously voted to invoke K.S.A. statute 12-1756 regarding taking action to protect the public from an immediate hazard to seek bids for the demolition of the Opera House (402-410 Broadway) and the Carson Hotel (400 Broadway) buildings. 

Opera House once pride of community

The Larned Opera House, with its large cathedral windows, ornate parapet and corbelled corners, was the enterprise of four Larned men who desired to construct a lasting entertainment venue for the community. 

Completed in 1887, the building’s description was published in the October 1888 issue of the Kansas Land Guide by the Scott Adams Real Estate Company.

The second-floor auditorium was semi-circular in form and was divided into orchestral, dress circle, parquet and balcony seats. Four private boxes adjoined the stage on either side. Cherry-wood trim and accoutrements accented painted scenery. The stage, meanwhile, was billed as “the largest in the state” and the entire building was gas-lighted.

The first floor was divided into four large storerooms separated by iron pillars, while the front facade included a plate-glass front.

Also built of brick from the same time period were the Masonic Lodge at Sixth and Broadway and the LeGrande Hotel at Eighth and Broadway.