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The AXA Building, or the Espenscheid Building as it was originally known, is a distinctive structure that has anchored an important intersection in Leavenworth’s historic downtown commercial district for over 100 years. It is one of the many important and handsome buildings designed by William Pratt Feth (1867–1959), Leavenworth’s most prolific early-twentieth-century architect.
In 1904, Charles Espenscheid from St. Louis asked Feth to design a speculative commercial building on the southeast corner of Fifth and Delaware streets. The ground floor accommodated five retail shops; an arched opening in the center of the Fifth Street facade provides access to 26 second-floor offices. The main facade on Fifth Street measures 125 feet long and the north facade on Delaware Street measures 48 feet wide. The later unification of the three retail spaces on the northern portion of the building has resulted in significant modification to the original storefronts.
The upper levels of the two-and-a-half-story structure remain as originally built. Both sides are symmetrical and faced in red brick. They feature tan brick quoins at the corners, large windows with quoins and a decorative pediment, and wide bay windows resting on a pair of brackets and capped with an arched roof. A short attic space features small, multi-paned windows that are interspersed in a rhythmic way with the bay windows and decorative paired brackets that support an ornamented cornice. The upper level windows attempt to bring a maximum amount of light into the offices. On the interior, translucent partitions between offices allow light to penetrate deep into the building. The woodwork on the upper floor and the finishes in the office lobby and stair were designed to attract prestigious professional tenants.
The AXA building is representative of Feth’s work in that it draws from multiple stylistic traditions, uses traditional elements in inventive ways, and still maintains a sense of overall coherence. Feth practiced independently until 1920, and then with his son Myron Kauffman Feth (1893–1976) until his retirement in 1930. Through the course of his 35-year career in Leavenworth he designed over 60 buildings of varying types. Seven of Feth’s buildings are contributing resources to the Downtown Leavenworth Historic District. The Feths left a remarkable legacy in their hometown, and its citizens sponsored the nomination of their Leavenworth buildings to the National Register of Historic Places.
Nimz, Dale, “The Designs of Architects William Pratt Feth and Myron Kauffman Feth in Leavenworth Kansas 1895–1942,” Leavenworth County, Kansas. Multiple Property Documentation Form, 2008. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Pankratz, Richard, “AXA Building,” Leavenworth County, Kansas. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1972. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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