Historical Architecture

Historic Colorado Derby Lofts

History of Colorado Derby Lofts

The 9-story Colorado Derby building, which was a development of the Ablah Investment Company, was completed in 1960. W.I. Fisher & Co. Architects, and Guy M. Shelley & Company Engineers, both from Wichita, Kansas were the architect and structural engineer respectively.

This building stands out as one of the earliest and most notable examples of the Modern Movement in downtown Wichita. The style is expressed by its rectangular footprint, extensive use of glass, metal panels, and exposed aggregate precast concrete. In line with the principles of the Modern Movement, the building lacks ornamental details on its facade and exhibits minimal evidence of the artisans’ craftsmanship. It features a concrete foundation, curtain wall construction, metal cladding, and a flat roof. The north, south, and west elevations emphasize horizontality with continuous bands of historic windows alternating with enameled metal spandrel panels. Additionally, a tower at the east end of the building provides a vertical contrast.

The historic entry canopy to the underground parking garage is a stark contrast to the main building’s rectangular form with its curvilinear and asymmetrical design.
At the northeast corner of the building, three elevators and a staircase form the circulation core from the basement to the roof.

Originally designed as a speculative office building, the building was named after its first and most prominent tenant, the Colorado Oil & Gas Co. It reached full occupancy soon after its opening.

In the 1990s, the building changed ownership and became the central hub of administrative offices for the Wichita School District. It underwent a renovation, including updated finishes such as carpet and VCT tile with rubber base trim covering the floors. The space was divided by walls of historic plaster and others made of non-historic drywall.

In 2014, Water Street Lofts, L.L.C. purchased the building with the intention of transforming it into residential apartments, now known as Colorado Derby Lofts. WDM was hired as the architect, and Key Construction served as the general contractor for the renovation.

Adaptive Reuse and Historic Tax Credits

In 2016 and 2017, the building underwent an adaptive reuse renovation, following the guidelines set by the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The building had not been changed much over time, and the renovation aimed to preserve the original exterior and as much interior as possible. The first floor’s usage remained primarily common spaces for the lobby, meeting rooms and fitness center.

WDM worked to preserve the visual character of the exterior facades, however, the removal of the original mosaic tile on the east elevation disqualified it from being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nonetheless, the remaining parts of the building still possess enough historic integrity to be eligible for listing on the Register of Historic Kansas Places and qualify for Historic Tax Credits. Its eligibility for state registration is based on its significance as an early contributor to the private investment trend and downtown revitalization in Wichita during the 1950s and 1960s.

Exterior Renovations

The exterior renovations included thorough cleaning and repairs of the windows. Exposed aggregate precast panels were given attention to restore their appearance. To maintain consistency with the original cladding panels, the east facade was painted in a color that closely matched the original tile work.

Regarding signage, the building’s original signage, reading “Colorado Derby,” had been removed many years ago and replaced with signage for the School District tenants. However, by referencing historical blueprints and photographs, signage was meticulously recreated and installed in its original configuration and location, restoring the building’s historical identity.

The parking garage entry canopy, with its swooping roof forms and angular walls, stands in contrast to the rectilinear form of the building. This original feature was repaired and cleaned.

Rooftop Oasis

The rooftop oasis is a standout feature created by WDM for the new apartment complex. This attractive space offers tenants breathtaking views of the Arkansas River and downtown Wichita skyline. It has become a popular gathering spot where large video screens and speakers allow guests to enjoy games with friends and neighbors on the rooftop. Additionally, the rooftop oasis boasts an outdoor grilling kitchen, a sunning pool, fire pits, rooftop gardens, and comfortable lounge furniture for residents to relax, read a book, or simply appreciate the beautiful sunset.

In order to meet historic guidelines the new architectural elements on the roof could not be visible from the street level. A site line study was conducted to verify compliance with this requirement. The roof perimeter cable railing was swept back at a 45° angle to minimize visual impact to the building facades.

The walking surface of the roof oasis is composed of lightweight concrete tile and composite decking on raised pedestal supports. Open joints between tiles allow rainwater to drain down below to the membrane roof and internal drainage system. Mechanical units were screened from view with custom raised planter boxes and ornamental grass.

Interior Renovations and Popular Amenities

All 96,000 square feet of the interior underwent extensive renovations. The project began by stripping the interior down to its shell, while preserving the underground parking garage and the historic entry lobby connected to the main east entrance.

EnginUity designed new electrical and mechanical systems to support the apartments. Heating and air conditioning ductwork was installed above new drop ceilings in the apartments. The majority of ductwork and overhead plumbing was located near the core of the building so that ceilings along the perimeter windows could remain at a higher elevation and maximize exterior views.

To enhance the small historic lobby, the ceiling was raised to its original height, allowing more natural light to fill the space. The entry glass was cleaned and reflective film was removed. Unnecessary conduits, devices, and signage, were removed from the stacked brick walls, visually improving the space. The terrazzo flooring was cleaned and repaired, and the original mail chute was carefully preserved. Additionally, the original wood trellis partitions in the public spaces on the first floor were retained, repaired and stained, serving as historic reminders of the building’s past.

Across the nine stories, the former office spaces were reconfigured into 105 apartment units, featuring studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom floor plans. Each apartment includes washer/dryer hookups, private bathrooms, and large windows with stunning views.

Tenants can access a private dog park on the property and dog wash area located in the basement. The elevator lobby in the basement boasts original green mosaic wall tile that preserves the original character.

A fully equipped fitness center is found on the first floor along with a variety of meeting rooms that can be used for informal gatherings or reserved for tenant business meetings and other functions. For added convenience, secure storage areas are available to tenants in the basement for things like strollers and bikes.

The project included construction of four private garage buildings around the periphery of the gated parking lot. There are a total of 33 private parking bays in the buildings. They have proved to be one of the most coveted amenities among the residents. The garages are large enough to accommodate full-size crew cab pickups or additional storage space for personal belongings.

Award Winning Project

  • Colorado Derby Building
    Award of Excellence

    Associated General Contractors of America

  • Colorado Derby Building
    Award of Honor

    Kansas Preservation Alliance · 2019

Measure of Success

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Project Overview






123,468 s.f.




201 N. Water, Wichita, KS 67202

WDM Services:

Architecture, Interior Design

Team Involved

Historic Consultant: Rosin Preservation General Contractor: Key Construction Engineering: EnginUity, MKEC Engineering and Hartwell

Construction Cost:


Colorado Derby Building Portfolio Project

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