Architect Louis Curtiss put a modern touch on Kansas City buildings

06/10/2014 3:08 PM

06/10/2014 5:16 PM

The name of architect Louis Curtiss is attached to some of the most celebrated Kansas City buildings.

The Standard Theater, now the Folly, of 1899-1900, survives as a restored performance hall. The Boley Clothing Co. Building, at 12th and Walnut streets, is famed for its early (1908) incorporation of curtain-wall construction, in which thick concrete floor plates allowed for the attachment of thinly profiled, non-structural, metal-framed glazing. And a series of grand and distinctive local residences reflect an evolution of Curtiss’ aesthetics, which came to be most identified with early 20th century modernism, low-slung Prairie School influences and Asian-inspired details.

Several of Curtiss’ existing achievements were open for inspection last weekend on a tour sponsored by two architectural groups, KC Modern and Historic Kansas City Foundation.

His most glorious residence is the Bernard Corrigan house, a stone and glass mansion on the northwest corner of 55th Street and Ward Parkway. Also notable are the former Rule residence, now known as Mineral Hall at the Kansas City Art Institute, the small but stunning Tromanhauser residence on West Roanoke Drive, and the Hoel and Miller houses in the heart of the Westheight neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan.

Also on the tour was Curtiss’ studio building, 1118-20 McGee, a three story curtain-wall structure. The studio has been endangered in recent years, but the building’s current owner, Sean Pickett, an attorney with offices in the building, said he is about to begin a restoration project. Leading visitors through the building on Saturday, Pickett showed evidence of an interior courtyard that he hopes to resurrect.

Little is known about Curtiss, though he had a reputation as an eccentric. And it’s said that he died at his drafting table in the second-floor studio space.

Curtiss is buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Washington Cemetery. At an introductory talk on Friday, a cheer when up when someone suggested we ought to do something about that. That sounded like a sign that a prominent though somewhat forgotten builder of the Kansas City style may finally get his due.

Steve Paul, editorial page columnist: 816-234-4762, paul@kcstar.com; on Twitter: @sbpaul.

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