Planned as a traditional upscale neighborhood on the edge of the city, much of Elmhurst was built during the building boom of 1909-1911 which coincided with a major increase in building downtown. Topeka’s first “skyscrapers” including the New England Building and the Mills and Gordon buildings were built during this period. Prominent downtown merchants, businessmen and professional leaders of the community soon made Elmhurst their home. The architecture of homes in Elmhurst varies. Many are American Foursquare with Arts and Crafts detailing. Elmhurst is where the Bungalow (especially the airplane bungalow) became fashionable.
Construction continued throughout the decade of the 1920’s. Elmhurst was the first residential neighborhood to have “cement” sidewalks throughout. The contract for the sidewalks represented the largest of its kind in all of Topeka to that date. Elm trees were planted on both sides of each street. Homes built in this era were among the first to be connected directly at the time of construction to city water, sewer, electricity and telephone lines.
Elmhurst was served by two streetcar lines: Lowman Hill and Washburn College. There were restrictions in Elmhurst. Homes had to cost at least $2,000, and many were built for twice that sum and more. No business or flat buildings were allowed. There were two handy grocery stores just outside the Elmhurst boundaries – a “corner store” on Munson between College and Mulvane that still stands today and the other on 12th St. just west of Boswell. In 1927, the beautiful Old English/Tudor style Elmhurst Plaza was built as one of Topeka’s first shopping centers. The building was razed for the current Dillon’s grocery store on Huntoon in 1970.
Many prominent citizens built homes in Elmhurst including J. W. Crane, Judge James McClure and Dr. Alvin Harrison. As that generation passed on, the homes were sold and the neighborhood changed gradually from “professional” to “blue collar”. During the 1940’s and 50’s, as more modern suburbs were added to the west and south, Elmhurst continued to deteriorate somewhat until the 1980’s when the Elmhurst Neighborhood Association came into existence. The ENA has done much to restore the character of Elmhurst and it is once again an attractive viable residential area.