From Battery Depot to Design Laboratory – 100 Years of History
One-hundred years ago the the Electric Storage Battery Company opened a new Exide Battery Depot at the corner of 17th and Walnut Streets in Kansas City, Missouri. Today, that building is home to the Helix Architecture + Design team. As we celebrate this milestone occasion, it seemed appropriate to dig a bit deeper into the history behind these four walls.
Designed in 1916 by German-born Kansas City architect Herman Stoeh, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of thirteen buildings that are part of the historic Walnut Street Warehouse and Commercial Historic District. According to National Park Service records, “the introduction and ensuing success of the cable car and electric trolley had much to do with the overall development of the Walnut Street Warehouse and Commercial District area.”
Historic image of 1629 Walnut / The original newspaper announcement for the building in the May 13, 1916 issue of Electrical Review and Western Electrician Magazine.
The Electric Storage Battery Co. had it’s start and major boom in business growth in the late 1800’s. The batteries – or “Chloride Accumulators” as they were called – were on the cutting edge and as soon as their usefulness caught on, demand picked up. Their first big break into the automotive industry was an order for 13,000 cells to power six new electric streetcars in Philadelphia. This shift in demand forced the company into larger facilities. From there, the company moved onto luxury railroad cars, small batteries for fans, sewing machines, telephone exchanges and phonographs, and then in 1898, the first submarine in the U.S. This same technology was even used to transmit the first transcontinental telephone service and wireless telegraph transmission.
In 1910, the company developed it’s first new battery used in electric taxicabs with greater energy capacity and less weight. These models bore the “Exide” brand name for the first time. From that time on, the company was pioneering automobile battery technology. The Exide Battery Depot at 17th and Walnut was one of many locations that manufactured, stored and sold these innovative new batteries.
A Second Life
As with many buildings in the Crossroads, the Exide Battery Depot sat abandoned for many years before Helix renovated the two story structure into our offices in 2003. We retained the historic integrity of the building while transforming the empty interior space into a people-centered design laboratory dedicated to building community and inspiring collaboration. From within these walls our talented team has impacted the lives of thousands of people who live, work and play in the spaces we design.
Fifty percent of the building is a community gathering space, which we have used to host a wide variety of social events and arts performances. A modern fireplace serves as the literal and figurative heart of the building. Open workstations, quiet alcoves and standing-height meeting spaces fill the design studio upstairs. Throughout the entire office there are boards lined with sketches, inspiration images and plans for buildings that we are bringing to life.
With solar panels on our roof and Electric Vehicle charging stations out back, our building has also become a test bed for sustainable technology. From automobiles to architecture, we’re proud to know that those who went before us were pioneering in their field and we look forward to carrying the torch from here!