Historical Architecture

Ambassador Hotel with Pocket Park and Parking Garage

The historic, 14-story Union National Bank was built in just eight months in 1926 at a cost of $200,000. Located in downtown Wichita, Kansas, the L-shaped building is a classic example of a tall, concrete-framed, Chicago-style office building.

Ambassador Hotel With Pocket Park And Parking Garage Case Study By WDM Architects 1
Dockum Drug Store: Location of Historic 1958 Dockum Sit-In

Making History

Starting in July of 1958, a group of black youth conducted a sustained sit-in at the lunch counter that lasted for three weeks in the face of pressure and harassment from police and the public. The protest was organized by the Wichita NAACP youth group to combat racial discrimination and pre-dated the more well-known sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960. On Monday, August 11, the drugstore manager finally served protesters because the sit-in was costing the business too much money. The next day, Dockum Chain Drug Stores in Wichita agreed to abolish discriminatory policies which soon became effective throughout the state. (National Register of Historic Places, African American Resources, Multiple Property Submission, Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas, KHRI #173-5880-08162.)

Ambassador Hotel With Pocket Park And Parking Garage Case Study By WDM Architects 2
1926 Union National Bank Postcard

Changes Over Time

The first floor changed significantly over time. Originally there were five small retail stores facing Douglas Avenue. By the time of the Dockum Drug’s sit-in in 1958, the drugstore occupied the entire north end of the first floor.

The southwest corner of the building was occupied by the Union National Bank and a small store. A central shared area separated the bank from the tennant space to the north. The shared space included the main Broadway Avenue entrance, elevators, elevator lobby and stair tower.

In 1977 and 1978, the first floor was remodeled and historic interior partition walls and finishes were removed. Historic storefronts were replaced with recessed storefronts in an effort to provide a covered entrance to visitors.

Historic Renovation

In 2011, WDM was retained to renovate the historic Union National Bank for adaptive reuse into a four-star boutique hotel. The developers recognized it was an ideal downtown location, with close proximity to the newly opened Intrust Bank Arena. As the site of the Dockum Drug Store sit-in protest, they saw the opportunity to pursue listing the property on both the state and national historic registers with access to historic tax credits.

WDM worked closely with the owner’s historic consultant, Christy Davis and helped the owner navigate the rehabilitation requirements of the SHPO (State Historic Preservation Officer), and the National Park Service. WDM provided necessary documentation for their case.

The nomination for historic listing confirms, “none of the original integrity of the hallways and rooms survive. The elevators are in their original positions, but have been stripped of their original decor. The rooms have been given false ceilings to accommodate the air conditioning and none of the original lighting fixtures remain in the rooms or the hallways.”

The only historic elements to survive were the formal stairway, with its marble walls, stairs and railings. Original brass handrails on the first floor were not ADA compliant but were grandfathered in. The historic brass mail drop was relocated to a more prominent location in the hotel lobby.

One focus was to bring the historic façade back to its original footprint. Regrettably, the recessed storefronts installed in the 70s resulted in considerable flooding issues in the basement. Restoring the original footprint would fix the flooding issue.

Demolition

Because virtually none of the interior walls were original to the building, the interior was gutted to make way for guest rooms and amenities for the hotel.

The exterior metal fire escape on south end of the building was a rusty eye-sore, structurally unsound and no longer permitted by code. Therefore, it was demolished and replaced by an interior stair tower. The new stair tower is enclosed with fire-rated shaft walls and a mechanical air pressurization system that protects occupants from smoke infiltration. The existing elevator tower and historic stair tower were preserved and a new elevator shaft and staircase were added inside.

Construction and New Floorplan

Any new floorplans for the hotel needed to be designed around the interior structural columns that support the building.

WDM designed the new hotel reception and lobby on the south side of the ground floor in the space formerly occupied by the bank. A new porte cochére and guest entrance was constructed to provide an off-street location for hotel arrival and optional valet parking service.

The hotel’s second floor boasts four beautifully appointed conference room venues fully equipped with Wi-Fi, AV and a business center nearby. Guests can get their blood pumping in the 24-hour fitness center on level three. Upper floors have opulent, stylish boutique decor in the premium king corner suites and executive guest rooms.

Window Replacement

The exterior windows were original to the building, but not energy efficient and beyond repair. They were removed and replaced with new 1/1 double-hung enameled aluminum windows with clear, insulated glass. WDM worked with window manufacturers to replicate the detailing and profiles of the original windows in an energy-efficient replacement window. Non-historic three-part clerestory windows were replaced with units modeled after historic windows based on historic photographs and blueprints.

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Image on Left: Ambassador’s ground floor with hotel entrance, reception and Siena Tuscan Steakhouse restaurant featuring a bar and sidewalk cafe. • Image on Right: Typical floorplan for levels 4-12.

Interior Finishes

The hotel interior is a contemporary style, with classic lines. All designs were governed by a commitment to function first, with an emphasis on comfort and sophistication. Luxurious finishes have an overall tonal palette of charcoal, black, and silver with acents of plum and soft green. Wood furniture and millwork are a rich, dark brown. Bright metal elements sparkle everywhere; from brass insets on columns, furniture with nailhead details, to mirror-finished lamps and light fixtures dripping with crystal.

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Siena Tuscan Steakhouse

A 4-star boutique hotel would not be complete without a fine dining restaurant onsite. Siena Tuscan Steakhouse is an authentic Italian restaurant that features handmade pastas. The popular venue can seat up to 90 guests in the restaurant and bar, and supports room service throughout the hotel. The bar offers an extensive wine collection and raised banquette seating.

Additionally, WDM created an outdoor dining area along the Douglas street frontage to provide guests an opportunity to enjoy their meal in the fresh air.

Dockum Apothecary Speakeasy

The Dockum Apothecary resides in the basement corner of the Ambassador Hotel. Working within the historical architecture of the building, WDM designed a portal into an illicit past. Reminiscent of a prohibition-era speakeasy, the Dockum gives hotel guests an escape that transports them to a mysterious time. The basement was comprised of several different below-grade levels which became a design challenge to provide ADA access when updating the space to a restaurant and bar. Working with the access board and the city, WDM was able to provide ADA access without having to add an expensive chair lift or a long ramp by utilizing the freight elevator as the main entry.

The combination of original concrete, plaster and brick along with classic furnishings, soft lighting, and fine appointments produces an eclectic and welcoming aura, with a uniquely clandestine twist. The original bank vault has been transformed into a semi-private room, as if it was once a secure chamber for ‘back room deals’. Adding to the allure, patrons need to find the secret entrance through the alley and kitchen, or down the main stair past the mechanical and back-of-house storage rooms.

Although there is no evidence documenting that a speakeasy ever existed here, it does not seem a stretch to imagine that a darkened room in the corner basement may have once been a private gathering place to enjoy some libations with the company of a few trusted friends.

Ambassador Hotel Parking Garage and Block One Pocket Park

WDM Architects designed a 7-level, 272-space parking garage for downtown Wichita that offers parking support for the Ambassador Hotel and other adjacent businesses and retail. Parking controls allow fees to be paid through a variety of mechanisms.

The associated pocket park provides green space between the Ambassador and the former Henry’s building. The park and garage are tied together with an artistic motif. Most prominently, a floral mosaic in the park’s waterwall fountain is etched on the garage’s stairwell and repeated in the garage’s wall murals.

Block One Pocket Park

WDM’s Landscape Architecture studio designed this urban plaza to tie the hotel and parking garage together. Located across from the portico of the hotel, Block One pocket park is situated in the middle of the block. The convenient location provides impromptu meeting space or a perfect spot for an evening stroll.

Public art applications are integrated into the parking garage walls and into the waterfall fountain in the park. Block One’s 30-foot-wide water-wall fountain offers guests a shimmering focal point and popular photo spot.

Wichita artist Tina Murano crafted the fountain’s flower mosaic from 1-inch-square glazed tiles, creating a continuous piece of art across all five of the 9-feet tall, 6-feet wide panels. A thin sheet of water cascades softly over the top of a stainless steel weir reminiscent of art deco design. Up-lighting on the water-walls cycles through a rainbow of colors, highlighting the mosaic tiles and the playfulness of the water’s movement.

The park is unified with its surroundings through the repetition of texture, color and artistic elements. The fountain’s flower motif is echoed by etched glass on the neighboring parking garage’s stair tower and wall murals. Decorative concrete in red and blue hues defines the fountain’s plaza while crimson brick throughout the rest of the small park pays homage to the area’s historic significance.

Unique features infuse a natural feel into the otherwise urban landscape. Artistically-inspired green walls mimic a small forest, designed with tree cutouts and panels that sway slightly in the breeze. Custom light fixtures guide your view upwards to clear blue skies and provide ambience for after-dark gatherings or a casual stroll. Plantings, both in-ground and potted, furnish necessary greenery and texture as well as the calming sound of rustling leaves in the middle of the busy city.

The park becomes flexible and functional through the addition of well-placed seating options. Tables and chairs supply intimate gathering spots while square benches, made of durable IPE wood, offer casual seating, lounging or even picnicking space.

Award Winning Project

  • Ambassador Hotel, Wichita
    Award of Honor

    Associated General Contractors of America · 2014

  • Ambassador Hotel, Wichita
    Medallion Award for Excellence

    Kansas Preservation Alliance · 2013

Measure of Success

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Project Overview

Built:

1926

Renovated:

2013

Location:

104 South Broadway, Wichita, Kansas

Area/Cost:

Ambassador Hotel: 117 Rooms / $15 million Parking Garage: 272 Spaces / $5 million Pocket Park: .25 Acres / $800,000

Team Involved:

MEP and Structural Engineering: MKEC Engineering, Inc. Civil Engineering: Ruggles and Bohm Contractor: Key Construction

Ambassador Hotel Portfolio Project

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