Festival celebrates innovative KC architect Louis Curtiss

05/27/2014 3:40 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Starting Friday, you’ll have a chance to learn about the work of one of Kansas City’s most famous architects when Historic Kansas City and KC Modern present the Louis Curtiss Festival Weekend.

Curtiss, a groundbreaking architect who hailed from Canada and settled in Kansas City in 1887, designed 216 buildings (not all of them were completed) during his lifetime. That’s not including those he designed early in his career with architect Frederick C. Gunn.

Curtiss is best known for the six-story Boley Clothing Company Building, now the Andrews McMeel Universal building at 1124-1130 Walnut St. in Kansas City. It was “one of the first glass curtain wall structures in the world,” according to the American Institute of Architects.

Curtiss experimented with designs that were new and innovative for their time, leading to a recognizable style sometimes called the “Louis Curtiss style.” About 30 of his buildings still exist; most are in the Kansas City area.

Curtiss’ influence was so wide-ranging that Trudy Faulkner, a preservationist with the AIA, called him the “Frank Lloyd Wright of Kansas City.” Robert Buerglener wrote a “Historic American Buildings Survey” of a home Curtiss designed for Bernard Corrigan, at 1200 West 55th St., calling it “an important regional example of the Prairie Style” and “among the earliest residential structures in Kansas City to make extensive use of reinforced concrete.”

The Louis Curtiss Festival Weekend kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at Katz Hall at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, when architecture experts will discuss Curtiss’ work.

A party, including cocktails, food, dancing and entertainment, will follow at 9:30 p.m. at the Social Bar and Grill, in the former Louis Curtiss Studio Building at 1118-1120 McGee.

Saturday will include tours of several Curtiss-designed buildings, beginning in the morning at the Louis Curtiss Studio Building, moving onto the Boley Building, then a garden tour at Mineral Hall, at 4340 Oak St.

Tours of three residences — one in the Roanoke neighborhood of Kansas City, and two in the Westheight neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. — will round out tours for the day.

The price for the tours is $20. A catered garden reception will follow, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Corrigan residence. The cost for it is $75, which will get you a rare guided tour of the first floor.

On Sunday, a concert followed by a backstage tour at the Curtiss-designed Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St., will close the festival. Eman Chalshotori, acting principal cello for the Midwest Chamber Ensemble and a member of the Topeka Symphony, will illustrate the theater’s incredible acoustics.

The concert begins at 1 p.m., the tour at 1:30 p.m. Both are free.

Now don’t expect to learn much about Curtiss, the man, during the festival. According to Curtiss experts and aficionados, he created an air of mystery about himself by never granting interviews or talking about what inspired his designs. In his first of many wills, he ordered all his personal papers to be burned, and he never married nor had children.

According to Susan Jezak Ford, a local historic preservation consultant, Curtiss died at his drafting table in 1924 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Washington Cemetery.

Louis Curtiss Festival Weekend

Friday: 7 p.m. discussion Katz Hall at UMKC, free; 9:30 p.m. party at Social Bar and Grill, free entry.

Saturday: Tours of buildings, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $20; 5-7 p.m., garden reception, Corrigan house, $75

Sunday: 1 p.m., concert and tour, Folly Theater, free

For more info, visit www.kcmodern.com or call 816-931-8448.

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