The Menninger Clinic

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Year Built: 1924 | Year Abandoned: 2003
Status: AbandonedGuttedUnder RenovationPrivate Property
Photojournalist: Emily Cowan

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Security Benefit Association

Security Benefit Association Hospital Under Construction ca. 1924

Before there was Menningers there was Security Benefit Association which established a home for the elder, orphanage, hospital, and farm on the grounds known as Martin’s Hill. The hospital and dormitory building was built of limestone and brick, three-stories high with a 140-foot clock tower in the center. Being constructed in 1924 as one central building that would cost around $250,000 initially. Deemed a replica of Independence Hall in Philidelphia the hospital opened officially in 1925, but it wasn’t long before the SBA determined that they would need a bigger facility. The largest building project since the Hotel Jayhawk was underway on Martin’s Hill in the fall of 1928. The enlargement would cost no less than $300,000 to complete and two wings would be added on to each end connecting them to the central building and creating space for 200 beds. They would also include new kitchen facilities and nurses’ dining room, in addition to fifteen clinic rooms, two laboratories, a physical therapy room, and five operating rooms. After no admissions for a decade, the Security Benefit Association shifted its focus and closed down the Security Benefit Hospital and Home in 1954.

Menninger Sanitarium (East Campus)

Menninger’s Sanitarium East Campus
Kansas Historical Society

Menninger might as well be a household name in throughout Topeka, there isn’t a family in town that at least one person knows of the Menninger’s. The Menninger Clinic was started by father and son duo Dr. Charles & Dr. Karl Menninger in 1925 after fascination in the psychiatric industry overcame them. The first building on what became known as the East Campus of Menningers Sanitarium was a farmhouse that sat on twenty-acres in Topeka, fit with twelve beds.

Eventually, the Sanitarium grew to a flourishing campus including Topeka Institute for Psychoanalysts, Clinic Building, two research buildings, two libraries, multiple educational buildings, C.F. Menninger Memorial Hospital, Child Psychiatric services, nurses housing, and lodges. Southard School for children was located at East Campus and was one of the first institutions specifically for children with mental health disabilities. Taking on a new way of treating the mentally ill, and paving the way for a restructuring of treatment throughout America.

As the Menninger’s work and campus continued to grow so did the need for funding. Thus the Menninger’s Foundation was born in 1941 as a registered Non-Profit 501(3c). This allowed for more funds to be moved around in the operation and expansions in buildings and programs to be brought in. The Menninger School of Psychiatry was one of those programs, established in 1946 it became one of the largest psychiatric training centers in the country. This was the start to one of the biggest and most advanced psychiatric education revolutions of the post-WWII era. Becoming the main hub for students training in psychology, and mental health disorders. The “new” therapies integrated into the program involved those of medical, developmental, family, and emotional/physical/social needs to help improve patients. This campus treated thousands of patients and taught thousands of student psychoanalysts up until a new and larger campus was needed.

Menninger Clinic (West Campus)

Sitting lifeless for five years, the complex of buildings that used to be Security Benefit Home and Hospital was bought up by the growing Menningers Foundation in 1959. This would become West Campus, which already had fifteen buildings that just needed a little modernization and renovating. Bringing the total number of buildings to thirty-nine and equalling 430 acres, with a staff of one-thousand and a $17,000,000 annual budget. After assessing the Menninger Foundations buildings and programs in 1975 it was determined that consolidating the East Campus clinic, educational and research buildings into one campus would be financially smart and beneficial for the Foundation. The East Campus had buildings over fifty years old and it was decided that further developing and consolidating to the West Campus would benefit the Foundation most. On May 1, 1980, groundbreaking for the $35 million dollar project was underway and the development of Menningers West Campus would soon become the hub of the thriving psychiatric industry in Topeka.

Kansas Historical Society

The new buildings would be a place for people who treat, who are treated, who teach, who learn and who generate new knowledge with their research. “The thing that impresses me about Menningers is that they carry the work they do on their patients out into the community—they were doing this before anyone else. They also have developed unique screening processes for servicemen and potential psychiatrists. I don’t know of any other groups that have done the sort of thing they have,” said Dr. Geoffrey Osier, member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Menninger West Campus Provided by Mike Boucher

The Main Building (former SBA Hospital Building) was truthfully the center of the West Campus, the eye-catcher, a staple piece in the Topeka skyline. The beauty and detail of the watchtower that sits in the center is something that all Topekans recognize to this day. The Power Plant was used to power the campus and included a laundry unit within it. A pool was located in between the Power Plant and Building D, which was a four-story brick, steel, and concrete building consisting of twenty-eight rooms. In addition, others on the West Campus were Building A, a three-story brick building consisting of twenty-four rooms equipped with a kitchen and cafeteria. Building B & C were three-story brick buildings with B having twenty-eight rooms. Building E was fitted with eight apartments for executive personnel and fifty rooms, Building G was of brick and wood. The reservoir held 2 1/2 million gallons for emergencies.

The Menninger Foundation changed the way psychiatric practices were done all over the United States and was for decades one of the top facilities in America. Research, education, new and improved treatment of mental health issues were always the main focus of the operation. When the Menningers Sanitarium was first brought to Topeka the Founders and patients were not welcomed by Topekans. But after years of public outreach and education, the family managed to change how a lot of the community viewed and interacted with patients with mental disorders.

In the late 90s and early 2000s the Menninger Foundation started to experience financial stress as the treatment of patients changed so did the facilities needs. Long-term patients that needed to be housed full time in its dormitories became less and less, which meant running the giant campus became more and more expensive. Health insurance coverage for mental health had changed and many plans no longer covered the treatment patients needed to receive creating a further issue.  September 27, 2000, Menninger’s made its official announcement that it would be leaving not only Topeka but Kansas altogether, after more than seventy-five years in the Sunflower State. President Walt Menninger, son of William Menninger, had signed a letter of intent to work with Baylor College of Medicine and Methodist Health Care System to form an alliance in Houston Texas. The move was to ensure the future of Menningers be secured, even if that meant leaving their roots behind.

Over the next three years, the clinic worked to move operations down south and figure outpatient situations. On May 31, 2003 the last twenty-nine patients boarded a jet to Houston leaving Topeka the “Psychiatric Capital of the World” no more. Only eight psychiatrists were still staffed with the clinic versus the almost eighty that worked there just a few decades earlier.

Menningers Hill underwent a different kind of cleansing starting in June 2008 when demolition crews stepped in to start the takedown of around fifteen old Menninger’s buildings. The first to come down was the woodworking shop that was used as a patient care activity building. Saint Francis Health Center of Topeka had plans to develop the property but for one reason or another the plans fell through. Only after a majority of the buildings came down, all that remains on the property is the Main Building with its magnificent clocktower and the old 1921 Power Plant and the 1927 Nurses Dormitory directly across from it.

Sunflower Foundation

Power Plant and Nurses Dormitory

The Sunflower Foundation saved two of the three buildings from demolition and is in the process of a $12 million project to renovate them to use as their headquarters. The two buildings would serve as an education & resource center and the other as conference and office space. The Foundation plans to move into the new nonprofit center in late 2020. Trademarking the term “Healing Hill” for the progressiveness that Menningers had on mental health and the hopefulness that the Sunflower Foundation will have on healthcare in the future for Topeka residents.

Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

This location is patrolled by local cops and is monitored 24/7 by security cameras. Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent if caught on the premises. DO NOT enter the property unless you have permission.

Gallery Below




Bibliography

“12 Sep 1928, 6 – The Frankfort Index at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/345236518/?terms=security%2Bbenefit%2Bhospital.

“25 Mar 1922, 12 – The Topeka State Journal at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/324557675/?terms=security%2Bbenefit%2Bcompany%2Bhospital%2Bbuilt.

“Demolition of Menninger Campus Begins.” Plainview Herald, www.myplainview.com/news/article/Demolition-of-Menninger-campus-begins-8465948.php.

“Famed Psychiatric Clinic Abandons Prairie Home.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 31 May 2003, www.nytimes.com/2003/05/31/us/famed-psychiatric-clinic-abandons-prairie-home.html.

Grossman, Ron, and Tribune staff reporter. “Era Ends for Menningers.” Chicagotribune.com, 28 Aug. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2001-07-03-0107030172-story.html.

Hrenchir, Tim. “CapFed Best News: Foundation Renovates Historic Menninger Buildings.” The Topeka Capital-Journal, www.cjonline.com/news/20190720/capfed-best-news-foundation-renovates-historic-menninger-buildings.

“Menninger Clinic East Campus and West Campus, Topeka , Kansas.” Home – Kansas Historical Society, www.kshs.org/index.php?url=km/items/view/223344.

“The Menninger Clinic, A Farmhouse in 1925, Now a World Center.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 13 Nov. 1975, www.nytimes.com/1975/11/13/archives/the-menninger-clinic-a-farmhouse-in-1925-now-a-world-center.html#:~:text=The%20speaker%20was%20Dr.,treatment%20of%20the%20mentally%20ill.

“Menninger Foundation.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 30 June 2004, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menninger_Foundation. Accessed 15 Sept. 2020.

NPGallery Search, npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/87ddda29-f120-416f-8ae0-178372224049.

“Sunflower Foundation.” Sunflower Foundation, 22 June 2020, www.sunflowerfoundation.org/home&view=standard.

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Vickie Solien
Vickie Solien
2 months ago

This would be amazing place for senior living apartments. Get tennis courts, veg. Gardens, pools, flowers gardens. You would get plenty of volunteers to help who would live there. Like Brewster’s just not quite as expensive. I would hate for the place to be torn down. It would be fantastic for seniors who can take care of themselves.

Chris Mazulo
Chris Mazulo
2 months ago

What happened to the cemetery that was on the grounds?

Carrie VanDruff
Carrie VanDruff
2 months ago

Who bought the Power Plant building? It’s looking gorgeous with all the renovations occurring. It’s sad that the Sister’s of Charity Leavenworth let these buildings all become so ruined, and St Francis (KUMC St Francis Campus) let it go, refusing to upkeep the property / and now refuse to pay the taxes. They should have not purchased the land / buildings if they didn’t want to keep everything up and ACTUALLY USE the land / facilities. I thought the SBH/MH Tower Building was on the Kansas State Historical Site list and COULDN’T be torn down because of this “historical certification”!?!… Read more »

Donald Snethen
Donald Snethen
2 months ago

Place for an International Museum of Psychiatry Could bring worldwide visitors to topeka

Sharon Young
Sharon Young
4 months ago

My father was a pharmacist part time at Menninger as was BD Ehler in early. 70s.

Ashley Miller
Ashley Miller
5 months ago

My question is how did you get in there and are you willing to take someone 🥺❤ ive been wanting to get in for years and even have contacted Mr Walter Menninger and we can’t get ahold of who owns it.

Nicole Carothers
Nicole Carothers
Reply to  Ashley Miller
2 months ago

I was Walt’s maid for a brief time and the man had stories for days. I would hear him refer people to the city for information on entering. When he signed it over, he lost all privelage. Even in his blossoming age and forgetfulness at times, he lit up when he spoke of Mennigers…and you could tell it was his heart. He never wanted to let it go to Texas.

Lesa (Reavis) Dierking
Lesa (Reavis) Dierking
5 months ago

WOW! I haven’t seen the Menninger grounds for probably around 20 years. I worked at Menninger from 1993 to 1998. It was a great place to work, and I have wonderful memories of the job positions I held and the co-workers and other employees there during that time; a lot of really great people! I cannot even imagine the money it would take to maintain such a property, but it just saddens me that this historic building has been left to such neglect and deteoration. It was an amazing building at one time. I recall, and the pictures support, the… Read more »

Samuel Huntsman
Samuel Huntsman
5 months ago

So cool thanks for telling about it. And taking photos on the inside.

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