LOUIS CURTISS HOUSE IN HYDE PARK
The turn of the 20th century was a very prolific period for Canadian born architect Louis Curtiss. In addition to the Colonial Revival at 500 E. 36th Street, Kansas City, Missouri built in 1909, he also designed an addition to Mineral Hall at 4340 Oak which incorporates the most photographed entrance in Kansas City, an arched doorway in the Art Nouveau style. As a part of his office buildings he designed the iconic Boley Clothing Co. Building at 1124-1130 Walnut in downtown Kansas City. The Boley Building is one of the first glass and metal wall buildings in the United States. Among his residential favorites in 1912 was the Bernard Corrigan house at 1200 W. 55h Street in Prairie-style with Art Nouveau elements. About 1915 he began design work for Westheight Manor subdivision around 18th and Washington in Kansas City, Kansas which is now a National Historic District. And who can forget his most famous public building at 12th and Central—the Folly Theater.
The original owners of the Showhouse in 1909 were Frank Fullerton Brumback, an attorney, and Louise Upton Brumback, a painter. They were members of the well-heeled society of Kansas City, but after 1920 they leased their house on 36th Street and built a house in East Gloucester, Massachusetts where she painted marine scenes of this seaside resort and artists’ colony. She also painted murals on the walls of the Kansas City home in 1919. These were described by Effie Seachrest in the July, 1919 American Magazine of Art: “Instead of re-papering a room, this clever little artist dashed her paint pots on its walls, sketching on one the view from the east window of her Gloucester cottage at sunrise; on another she did the harbor with its picturesque boats and the fishermen; and on the west, over the mantel, she has a charming beach scene with the bathers, pink umbrellas, and yellow sand. The last view is of the village on a misty moonlight night.” Unfortunately none of the murals have survived.
The first lessee of the residence was John R. Crowe, Jr., president of the Crowe Coal Company. He has a history with the 28th Showhouse (1997) located at 1030 West 55th Street. He was married to Nancy Bell, the heiress daughter of Victor Bell, one of the founders of the Long-Bell Lumber Company, and had that house built in 1915. When the marriage failed, John moved to 500 E. 36th Street and lived there in 1920 and 1921 when they were divorced.
The second man to lease the house was Jouett Shouse who lived there from 1922-24. He practiced tax law and had worked in agricultural and livestock businesses in Kansas and became politically active in the Democratic party. He served as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives from Kansas’s 7th district from 1915-1919.
From 1925-28 Stephen H. Velie, grandson of John Deere , lived at the Showhouse. He moved to Kansas City about 1892 to manage the Kansas City branch of the John Deere Plow Company. According to the book Kansas City Establishment, he was a veritable sportsman-prince. He was glowingly described as a “tall, well-proportioned man, athlete and adventurer, big game hunter and top polo player,” “a fabulously rich aura made him a legend in his own lifetime…the most glamorously dashing man who ever lived in Kansas City.” He was credited with being the first sportsman in the U. S. to use thoroughbred horses for polo. He bred and trained them on his farm near Blue Springs, Missouri.
The next couple to occupy the house was Earle W. Jennings and his wife Laura from about 1929-1932. He is listed in the City Directory as Sales Manager of General Utilities.
From about 1933-35 Charles and Josephine Peters occupied the house. He was superintendent and secretary of the department store Emery, Bird, and Thayer. The present owners were visited by a neighbor from Janssen Place who said that her uncle used to let his chauffeur drive her to school. The neighbor was Betty Peters Kostelac whose father, George C. Peters, was Charles Peters’ brother.
The next residents were Ernest J. Stackhouse and his wife Hattie from about 1940-49. He was a foreman with Aircraft Accessories.
Mrs. Frances Wells, widow of John Wells, lived at the Showhouse from about 1950 to 1955.
Oklahoma natives Charles and Eula Hightower resided at the Showhouse from about 1956-59. He was a railroad engineer with the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway as an “oiler.” Eula was a member of the Choctaw tribe. Their only daughter, Rosella Hightower, became an acclaimed ballerina in Europe and visited her parents in Kansas City. She is pictured in the mural at the Oklahoma capitol to honor Native American ballerinas.
From 1960 to 1977 Mary D. Watson converted the house into the Watson Boarding House. In November, 1960 she applied for a building permit for “alterations, new partition and kitchen sink, cabinet work, wooden studs, partitions, and sheetrock.” There was even an application for a permit to “build outside fire escape from 3rd floor in rear yard.” Luckily it was never built.
The Merl Desmarteau Family brought back the house to single family occupancy from 1978-1988 under the direction of Raylene Scott. They bought the house for $80,000 but spent $180,000 for renovations.
Merl was the head of Human Resources for the Household Finance Company, and Raylene was a professional interior designer. They gutted the maid’s quarters to add space for the kitchen under the direction of Kitchens by Kleweno. They added central air on the second floor by lowering the ceiling and installing ductwork above it.
In the 1990s the house was owned by Thomas Ireland and Edward Thornton. They shared some of the extra bedrooms on the third floor with young teachers at Academie Lafayette. The chandelier in the dining room came from the Glenwood Manor Hotel in Overland Park. They added a front patio with concrete cast balustrades and a swimming pool. A signature addition was the wrought iron fence and front gate with the letter “C” which was brought from England in remembrance of the family of Edward C. Thornton. He was the purchasing manager with Ag Processing in St. Joseph, Missouri, and Tom Ireland was a senior tax analyst with the IRS. Mr. Thornton died in 1998 and Mr. Ireland moved to Maryland.
Since the early 2000s Eric Vianello and Andrea Skowronek have enjoyed the home. Andrea is a professional dancer who recently retired from the City in Motion Dance Theater. In 1955 she became Artistic Co-Director, choreographing many original works for the company. Currently she is a faculty member of St. Teresa’s Academy, where she teaches dance and yoga. Eric’s father is Hugo Vianello, a former associate conductor of the Kansas City Philharmonic (now Kansas City Symphony). Eric’s specialty is conceiving and launching businesses in the internet and publishing fields. We thank them for allowing us to create the 51st Symphony Designers’ Showhouse in Hyde Park.
-Beverly Shaw, House Historian