Gem Building turns 90 years old

The Gem Building at 508 SW 10th St. turned 90 years old Sept. 21.

The downtown Topeka building holds importance to many Topekans for sentimental reasons. The building was placed in the National Register of Historical Places. The immaculate condition of the Gem Building is attributed to a man named Jan Leuenberger.

Retired Shawnee County District Judge, Jan Leuenberger is responsible for the preservation of the Gem Building. 

“My grandfather, Fritz Leuenberger, father Fritz ‘Bud’ Leuenberger, and their business partner, H.L. Klopfer, had the Gem Building constructed in 1928,” Leuenberger told the Topeka Capital Journal. 

The following year was the beginning of the Great Depression, but Leuenberger’s ancestors had the drive and determination to create this building, despite the difficult times.

Originally, the Gem Building was built to house a grocery store and small apartments. Gem Grocery Company began from the development of the Gem Building.

Gem Grocery Company was highly innovative, and it greatly impacted Topekans in the early 1900s. It contained modern amenities, such as ice, as well as groceries and other necessary items. The company was locally owned and did a lot for the Topeka community.

Historically, the building has survived many hard times and still stands tall. It has seen a lot of American and world events, including the Great Depression, World War II and Brown v. Board of Education.

Now, at 81 years old, Leuenberger owns and manages the Gem Building. He lived in the building for the first 20 years of his life, so the building holds a lot of importance to him. It also allows him to recognize his grandfather and father’s accomplishments.

According to the Topeka Capital Journal, Leuenberger said that the building still contains many of the structures that it was built with so that people walking through the building will experience the same atmosphere that those in 1928 did.

“In Wichita, there are buildings preserved, and it is very interesting to walk around and see original restaurants and stores. Most places will have old pictures from the 1800s,” Madison Bell, Washburn freshman, said. 

While the Gem Building used to operate as a grocery store and apartments, it is now only apartments, consisting of 12 separate apartments with varying sizes.

According to, the rent can range from $375 to $750 per month. Studios are available as well as one, two and three bedroom apartments.

The Gem Building was built with a Gothic-Mediterranean aesthetic, like much of downtown Topeka. However, the apartments list for an affordable price. It also has a dynamic history that many other apartments do not have to offer.

Restoration and upkeep of historical buildings is important to preserve parts of history, especially for young people who, usually, can only witness history through textbooks.

“I think kids get really involved with it because they can see the building and how it relates to history, and once you get older you can learn more about the building,” Bell said. “It’s beautiful, architecturally, to see designs different than modern.”