Old Buildings New Purpose: THE VINEWOOD
Emma Highfill | Photographer
However, in 2016, after 51 years, the Robucks retired and closed their retail store, Robuck Jewelers. But that didn’t stop them from working. Today, the Robucks are busy renovating The Vinewood located at 2848 SE 29th Street near Lake Shawnee. It is a building that has a long history not only with Topeka, but with the Robucks as well.
The Vinewood dates back as far as 1889, and in the early 1900s was known as Vinewood Park. Back then, Vinewood Park boasted wooden roller coasters and a carousel, and offered paddle boats and canoes for people to use on the creek that surrounded the property. When the City created Lake Shawnee in 1935, The Vinewood became more of a dance hall, and that is where Jim and Charlene met 30 years ago.
“In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, I was out here all the time,” Charlene said. “I came out here Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays to dance. They had single dances on Friday nights, and that’s when Jim and I met, so we have a lot of history with the building.”
The Vinewood is not a park or a dance hall anymore; it is a wedding and event venue that can house 499 people and easily seat 250. The Robucks purchased the building last April and began to make renovations to give it a more open and welcoming atmosphere.
“The inside was just dark. You would open the front door and there were no windows, no light. It was black in here,” Charlene said. “It needed a brighter, cleaner look. We wanted it to be more appealing to everyone, especially the younger people.”
Renovations have been under way for the past six months. They installed new windows along the front of the building, which quickly lit up the space, and added stone to the front to give it a more modern feel.
“It’s like with any old building, you are always running into surprises,” Charlene said. “The roof was leaking in a number of places and the ceiling was an ugly orange color. The fireplace was not usable at all, in fact, it was dangerous because it was broken and cracked, so we rebuilt everything. We also added a bridal room, so brides would have a place to get dressed. It has just been on-going, nonstop!”
With all the renovations, however, there are some things that the Robucks want to preserve. Inside the women’s bathroom the walls are covered by newspaper articles, pamphlets and pictures dating back as far as 1895.
“Those pictures are so full of history, it was just phenomenal. When we bought The Vinewood, the first thing someone wanted to do was tear the pictures off the walls, and we said ‘No!’ I’m not sure who did the “wallpaper” in there, but whoever did it was thinking about the history of the building,” Charlene said. “Those pictures have been a point of interest to just about everyone coming in.”
Fixing up old buildings is not new to the Robucks. They started their renovation business when they relocated their jewelry store to North Topeka. At the time, they were one of the first retailers in the area and noticed that many of the buildings were in poor condition.
“When we moved to North Topeka, everybody told us we were crazy. We saw that there was potential there, and truthfully, it was the best move we could have made. We noticed that many of the buildings were run down and falling apart. That’s when we started purchasing old store front buildings just to save them. We still own 12 buildings now,” Jim said.
That was almost 20 years ago. Since that time, the area has developed into the NOTO Arts District.
Shana Stitt, event coordinator for The Vinewood, said NOTO probably wouldn’t be what it is today without the Robucks.
“They take little credit for anything they’ve done for Topeka, but I think they really helped to develop the NOTO area and make it what it has become today. They are the “founders” of that area by simply buying the buildings and saving them,” Stitt said.
As of right now, The Vinewood is mostly being used as an event space, but the Robucks, having met there at a dance 30 years ago, dream of bringing those dances back to The Vinewood.
“We would like to have dances here. We used to come here and dance and now there just aren’t any more dance venues left in Topeka,” Charlene said. “Maybe in the future.”