The end of an era is near for one of Kansas City’s most famous houses.
Known as Camelot, the 15,000-square-foot castle sits on three lots overlooking the east side of Weatherby Lake. And it’s for sale, listed at $7.8 million.
For owner Laura Welch, moving will be bittersweet.
“Having lived on a lake for 34 years, it’s going to be a big change not waking up, listening to the geese flying over the water and watching the sailboat regatta races,” Welch says. “And there’s nothing more amazing than going down to the dock after a day’s work and putting your feet in the water. That’s what I’ll probably miss the most.”
But Welch knows it’s time for her and Tessa, her 16-year-old blind Italian greyhound, to move on.
The next owners will get a home with a fairy-tale story that goes something like this.
Once upon a time, there was a rich and successful lawyer in Kansas City who loved adventure and had a big personality.
His name was Lantz Welch, and as a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer, he tried more than 200 jury cases during a career that spanned more than 50 years. Three of those cases resulted in world-record verdicts.
Lantz was adventurous, with a penchant for skiing 60 mph downhill, racing sailboats and pulling off aerobatic feats in his biplane. His friends described him as eccentric and “large and very much in charge.”
One day, in 1981, Lantz hired a secretary named Laura Gault, a former gospel singer. She had what he called an “inner quality” that he found alluring.
“She has brought me more peace and happiness than I ever thought possible,” he would write years later in his online autobiography titled “Mr. Lucky.”
Laura was 22 and Lantz was 48, but he asked her out anyway and beat all would-be critics to the punch by labeling himself a “cradle robber.” It didn’t hurt that Laura was pretty and equally as adventurous. (She’d one day conquer Mount Kilimanjaro!)
Three years into their romance, Lantz bought a ring and hired a biplane to write a marriage proposal in the sky above Arrowhead Stadium during half-time at a Chiefs game. Laura, who was wearing a fluffy white fur coat, instantly said yes.
But the wedding would have to wait. First, there was a home to be built: Camelot.
Did we mention that Lantz referred to himself as Lantzlot, and to Laura as the queen?
“Lantz always thought of Lancelot as the champion of the people, and that was his passion as a trial lawyer — to represent the people, to make sure they had their day in court and that justice would be served,” Laura says.
He helped children, too. Through the Lantz Welch Foundation (now Welch Family Foundation), he and Laura would become like surrogate parents to many at-risk urban youths.
But back to Camelot. For the next 10 years, the couple set about planning and building it.
Rick Welch, Lantz’s son from a previous marriage who was also living in a home on Weatherby Lake, was not at all surprised when his dad started building Camelot.
“Well you know back in the ’60s, with the whole Lancelot deal, he always said that if he ever made it big, he was going to make it happen,” Rick says. “And if you knew my dad, when he had a vision, it always became a reality. So the plans came to fruition, and I had to move because I couldn’t see the lake anymore.”
Camelot was not going to be a castle with faux finishes and flimsy frippery. No, it would be built with all the fineness and authenticity of the fortified structures found in the Old World.
For reference, the Welches traveled throughout Europe, often on bicycles, taking photographs of castles and acquiring antiquities.
One day, in 1990, Lantz came home from a trip to Ireland and informed Laura that he’d found the inspiration for their masterpiece: Ashford Castle, a medieval home once owned by the Guinness family that had been turned into a five-star luxury hotel.
“Everything is authentic,” says Ursula Terrasi, a neighbor and close friend. “It’s the icon of Weatherby Lake. Whenever we talk about Weatherby Lake, we always say, ‘Well you know — where the castle is. We live by the castle.’ It enhances the lake and the properties around it.”
It took a small village to bring it to life.
Lantz hired luxury home builder Jeff Martinique of Martinique & Co. and presented him with photographs and some general ideas. But how do you build a castle from scratch?
“In this situation, there was not a plan to follow for Camelot,” Martinique says. “And you can’t go into the research books and see what the parts are supposed to look like.”
So he referred the Welches to architect Howard Nearing to draw up plans.
“Lantz had bought three lots on Weatherby Lake and was living in a house next door,” Nearing recalls. “So we had to design a house that fit the building requirements of Weatherby Lake. When we started out, the house was to be larger than it is.” But Lantz decided it needed to be about 25 percent smaller. “So we had to review the whole subject again.”
With the blueprints finished, legions of artisans, carpenters and builders were called in. John Scaff of Scaff Masonry personally oversaw hod carriers and masons as they moved and chiseled limestone for 14 months.
“Truckloads of limestone would come in, and these cool guys on motorcycles with long ponytails would chisel it on site, playing loud Ted Nugent,” Laura recalls. “What we wanted to do was honor the artisans and stay with a high level of quality and mix it with magic and then pull it forward to today.”
Parts of old Kansas City found new life in the home.
Marble from a house that was razed to make way for the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art was repurposed as quoin (corner) work, arches and corbels.
And the threshold for the solid wood, Gothic-style front doors is from Central High School, which Lantz attended. He liked to tell people he had been thrown out over that threshold more than once for mischievous misdeeds.
Here’s how it feels to step into Camelot.
Beyond the limestone walls and through the custom iron gate, a front walkway leads to a large portico with an 18th century French chandelier made of iron that can be raised and lowered by a pulley. An iron deadbolt latches the front doors.
Steve Austin, of Austin’s Iron Works, created all of Camelot’s ironwork, including the deadbolt, the front gate, hardware for all the interior doors and the ornate balusters on the center hall staircase leading to the second floor. Martinique, who is also a sculptor, hand-carved the wood handrail and constructed the stone stairs.
“I’d build many, many spiral staircases in my day, but that’s the only one I’ve done out of stone,” Martinique says. Lantz nicknamed him Merlin the Wizard because of the magic he performed in creating Camelot.
The great room on the first floor has 18-foot ceilings and hand-scraped, wide-plank oak floors. Martinique also sawed and textured thousands of feet of oak for Camelot’s trim work, beams and doors at such precise angles that no fillers, caulks or putties were needed during installation.
The master bedroom was also a feat of engineering and craftsmanship. Its wood door is 48 inches wide on the outside and 36 inches wide on the inside to accommodate an armoire. Tall, rope-like posts carved of solid wood for the built-in bed posed one of the biggest challenges for Martinique.
“I knew what they were asking for, just not how to do it,” he says. “It took six months to build the first one, and I destroyed four lathes and six sections of timber building it. Once that one was done, it took three days to do the second one.”
For the round dining room, the Welches purchased a 200-year-old, hand-sculpted fireplace surround from England that had to be custom-fitted, along with its firebox and flue, to the curved wall. The crown molding comprises 31 pieces, and artist Stephen Goldblatt, of Quixotic Cirque Nouveau, hand-painted the Camelot-themed murals on the walls and ceiling.
As for amenities, Camelot has three kitchens: the main one and a service kitchen on the main floor and one with a window to an outdoor terrace on the lower level. Each of the three guest suites has a full bathroom. A huge game room has a full bar, the workout room has a far infrared sauna, and there’s a 5,000-bottle wine cellar.
Martinique has built homes for families with names like Kemper, Ward, Stover, Hall and Tivol. Five of his homes have been featured in Architectural Digest. But Camelot stands out.
“We had some unusual problems,” he recalls. “A lot of things that cantilever out took special scaffolding or whatnot that allowed them to stand through the night until they dried. It was exhausting, but it was kind of fun. It gave me an opportunity to create a whole lot of things out of fantasy land. This would be my most satisfying project.”
Finally, in 1993, the Welches moved into Camelot. Three years later, they tied the knot.
Befitting the castle, the reception at Camelot was based on the theme “Once Upon a Time.” More than 430 guests reveled in a party that included actors in Shakespearean garb, mimes, jugglers, fire-eaters and bagpipers.
Lantz and Laura spent the next 20 years traveling the world, embarking on crazy adventures and opening Camelot to serve the people.
“If she gave you a list of all the fundraisers they’ve had there, it would be so long you’d have to fill two newspaper pages,” Terrasi says. “Their generosity is beyond words. Lantz was always behind the bar making specialty drinks. I always felt like I really was in Camelot, because there was always so much joy and so much fun.”
Even when she and her husband weren’t invited to the Welches’ lavish parties, Terrasi loved them, because she could see the twinkling lights and hear the music drifting across Weatherby Lake. It was Gatsby-esque, she said.
Laura got so good at staging big events that she founded Laura Welch & Associates, which served as a liaison between entertainers and businesses and philanthropic groups. Kenny Loggins, Chaka Khan and Patti Austin have all been clients who’ve stayed at Camelot and sung songs in its regal great room.
The Welches tried to sell Camelot in 2008 with plans to move to their home in Aspen, Colo., where they were spending more than six months a year because they’d fallen in love with the mountains. They took it off the market when the real estate crisis hit. About five years ago, they sold the Aspen home instead.
“With Lantz’s impending age he was unable to ski and bike and do the things that attract you to a place like that,” Laura says. “It ended up being a blessing, because we had built (Camelot) with the intention of not having to leave due to age or an illness, which is why we put in an elevator to all three floors and made sure there were no steps to the master bedroom or anywhere on the main floor.”
Two years ago, the Welches spent $1 million upgrading Camelot. In October 2015, Lantz had a stroke while undergoing surgery. At first, Laura says, he could walk and talk and was getting therapy. But he kept having recurring infections and his mobility decreased.
He died on July 21, 2016, at age 83, surrounded by his family. At Camelot.
Laura felt a sense of loneliness for awhile.
“But it’s been replaced with a myriad of memories from all the parties and weddings and philanthropic events and the Christmases with our families,” she says. “There’s a story in every room, in every corner. And that will be hard to leave.”
Laura plans to stay in Kansas City but move to a smaller space — maybe a loft, she says.
She hopes Camelot’s next owners take care of it like a piece of art, as she and Lantz did, and continue to use it for philanthropic purposes.
Terrasi also has a wish: that the new owners have children.
“Could you imagine being a kid and growing up in a castle?” she says.
5Drilled wells, each 120 to 140 feet deep, for the heat pump units.
12 Sinks (not in a bathroom), spread throughout the house for cleaning up after parties
17Tons of marble
108Square feet of granite counters in the main kitchen
253Lights throughout Camelot
280Pounds of the antique chandelier hanging in the center hall
350Feet of lake frontage
5,000Maximum capacity of the wine cellar
14,000Feet of hammered Missouri limestone
17,000Board feet of hand-planed red oak throughout Camelot