House & Home

KC Dwellings: Shirtwaist homes put a local imprint on a classic style

The shirtwaist home in Coleman Highlands Heights owned by Anna Lisa Lawton and Sonja Carlson has the trademark mix of limestone on the first level and siding on the upper floors of the exterior.
The shirtwaist home in Coleman Highlands Heights owned by Anna Lisa Lawton and Sonja Carlson has the trademark mix of limestone on the first level and siding on the upper floors of the exterior. The Kansas City Star

Anna Lisa Lawton and Sonja Carlson didn’t know exactly what kind of house they wanted to buy. They just wanted it to be old and have a big porch.

They ended up with a 1909 three-story home in Coleman Highlands. The first floor of its exterior is built of limestone, while its top two floors are covered in cedar shingles. A large porch runs the length of its symmetrical front, and its roof lines are steeply gabled.

Lawton and Carlson, as it turns out, had bought one of the area’s more distinct architectural styles: a Kansas City shirtwaist.

Before that, they’d never heard of such a thing.

“Nope, not at all. We learned when we moved in, from neighbors, and then by doing research on the Internet,” said Lawton, a Wisconsin native. She and Carlson moved here from Albuquerque, N.M., last year. “I don’t remember seeing this style growing up in the Midwest myself.”

Kansas City shirtwaists are sprinkled liberally in several urban neighborhoods including Pendleton Heights, Squier Park, Roanoke Park, Hyde Park and Valentine.

The shirtwaist is an architectural style that was built from about 1900 to 1920 in Kansas City, according to Sarah Snodgrass, a local Realtor and homes blogger.

A local variation on the American foursquare, it is defined by a number of features starting with its symmetrical front exterior, two or three levels and substantial front porch. The first level is built of brick or limestone, while the upper levels are covered in stucco or siding. The roof is usually steeply gabled and sometimes flares out into overhangs on the sides of the homes.

A lot of the limestone was from local quarries, though Sears Roebuck later capitalized on the shirtwaist style and began selling its Wizard Block Making Machine so homeowners could make craggy concrete blocks that resembled limestone.

Inside, the staircase is often on the side of the house and runs from the basement to the upper levels. The first floor is dedicated to living space, with the kitchen in the rear and bedrooms on the upper floors. Third floors typically have sloped ceilings.

Many foursquare homes were constructed using kits from catalogs such as C.L. Bowes Co., Aladdin Homes, Sterling Kit Homes and Sears Roebuck.

Lawton and Carlson recently had the shingles on the upper exterior of their home painted a soft olive green, and the trim is a combination of ivory and deep red.

The interior has a rear kitchen and a decidedly arts and crafts feel, which most shirtwaists do. But this home’s staircase is in the middle rather than on the side.

A deacon’s bench and light fixture in the foyer as well as leaded glass windows, cabinetry and the mantel and tile on a fireplace in the living room are all original. So is a gas light on the second floor landing that has been converted to electric.

The couple gutted the kitchen and kept the new one in the arts and crafts style. They’re carefully restoring the rest of the home and talk about it with great reverence.

“When you’re doing the remodeling you think a lot about the people who lived in this house and the craftsmanship that went into them and the detail of the trim and molding. It’s amazing,” Lawton says. “It’s an antique, and we feel we have a responsibility to keep it in good shape for whomever is next. It leaks and creaks, but we love it.”

  Comments