A Tudor with a story gives way to progress at UMKC

The giant yellow crane tracked across lawns and gardens until it loomed over a sprawling brick-and-stucco Tudor on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

After eight decades, a house that had served as home to a grease magnate and seven university chancellors was standing in the way of progress.

In two hours, a demolition crew on Friday reduced the house at 5106 Cherry St. to a heap of rubble between the Student Union and the Bloch School of Management. Piles of stone, glass and twisted metal, along with chunks of the concrete foundation, were hauled away Monday and Tuesday, creating space for what comes next: a parking lot.

With a $32 million donation last year from Henry W. Bloch to the UMKC business school for a new building promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, somehow the university had to make room on its urban campus for expansion of the school’s award-winning program.

A parking lot next to the business school already had been marked for the site of the Bloch School expansion, “but we couldn’t afford to lose any parking in that part of campus,” said Bob Simmons, vice chancellor for facilities. “We knew that every parking space we lost there would have to be replaced.”

Parking space is a valuable commodity on the campus, which is surrounded by residences and has little room for growth.

The demolition plans were announced just last month. UMKC archivists said they didn’t even have time to snap photos to document the final exterior and interior appearance of the two-story house.

The building received a $400,000 roof-to-basement makeover 12 years ago, with a donation from the William T. Kemper Foundation covering $250,000 of the cost.

“This is going to be a tremendous asset for the community,” then-Chancellor Martha Gilliland said in November 2000, shortly after she moved in.

This week, some reusable materials such as pipes that had been pulled from the house ended up at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. Interior doors, cabinet hardware and plumbing fixtures had been removed by ReStore days before demolition. All those materials are to be resold and could raise up to $10,000 for the not-for-profit agency, ReStore said.

Losing the house saddened some preservationists, who now have their eyes fixed on an older campus structure they want spared: Epperson House.

The 56-room Tudor Gothic mansion was built in 1919 by industrialist and philanthropist Uriah S. Epperson and his wife, Elizabeth. It stands vacant on the hill at 5200 Cherry.

“The big picture is that institutions have a responsibility to be good stewards of the historic resources they own, and campus master plans need to include a strategic focus on balancing new development with preservation efforts,” said Amanda Crawley, executive director of the Historic Kansas City Foundation.

“Epperson House, also owned by UMKC and on HKCF’s 2011 Watch List, would greatly benefit from targeted investments for repairs and maintenance, and a long-term reuse plan.”

Unlike the chancellor’s house, which for years sat on the university’s list of low-use facilities and was marked for demolition, Epperson House is “protected,” Simmons said. He said the university is waiting for funding to fix it up and decide on the best use for the building.

The chancellor’s house hadn’t stood long enough to make it on to Kansas City’s Historic Preservation Commission list of historic homes.

But having been designed by architect Clarence E. Shepard, who was responsible for many historic homes in Kansas City, it was considered a landmark building, said Brad Wolf, administrator of the city’s Landmarks Commission.

It was one of several large houses on Cherry Street that philanthropists donated to what was then the University of Kansas City.

The chancellor’s house

The house at 5106 Cherry was built in the early 1930s for Jesse R. Battenfeld Sr., president of Battenfeld Grease and Oil Co.; his wife, Margaret; and their two sons.

Both sons died young.

John Curry Battenfeld was a 19-year-old University of Kansas student when he was killed in December 1939 in a car wreck on Kansas 10 just east of Lawrence.

His brother, Lt. Jesse R. Battenfeld Jr., was 28 in February 1945 when he died in a plane crash in Washington state. Battenfeld, a surgeon with the Navy Medical Corps who had served in the Pacific, was on a routine training flight out of a naval station near Seattle.

Their parents honored them with big donations to the University of Kansas, providing the money for KU’s Battenfeld Scholarship Hall and Battenfeld Auditorium at the KU Medical Center.

By the time the senior Battenfeld died in 1947, his company was one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of grease and oil. Even during the Depression, the company produced 20 million to 30 million pounds of grease a year and supplied more than 1,000 oil companies, according to his obituary.

Five years later, his widow married Edward Hashinger, a longtime member of the KU medical school faculty.

In 1958, the Hashingers donated the Cherry Street house to the University of Kansas City, which used it as the chancellor’s residence. The last to occupy the house was Guy Bailey, who came to UMKC in 2005 and stayed three years. Current Chancellor Leo Morton lives in Leawood and receives a $4,400-a-month housing allowance.

Over the years the chancellor’s house was filled with antique furnishings, small statues and trinkets from around the world given as gifts to the university. Most of the pieces now adorn the interiors of other campus buildings. A few Asian pieces greet visitors in the third-floor lobby of the university’s administration building.

“I think it is not uncommon any more that university chancellors or presidents not live in the homes provided for them on campus,” said David Boutros, who is in charge of university archives. “But I know there were times in UMKC’s history when it was an important residence. It certainly was a cultural center for the campus.”

In recent years, the house was used for fundraising events and to entertain university donors and small faculty groups.

But Simmons and other university officials saw the chancellor’s house as a structure that was “outmoded and past its day.”

When they began considering space on campus for possible construction sites, “we looked for areas that are low-density areas, that are not well utilized, and the chancellor house fit that bill.”

The house actually had been marked in the university master plan for demolition for several years. Officials were just waiting for the right project to come along.

“From a practical point of view, though, the ground it was on was just more valuable to be used for the Bloch School,” Boutros said.