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Enlightened Speculation

July 11, 2015

Truth be told, this speculation may be more entitled than enlightened.

The list of second- and third-string architects who fascinate me—the likes of Arthur Beresford-Pite, Burnham Hoyt, Josef Plecnik, for example—barely register on the Richter Scale of architectural history. Kansas City practitioner Louis Singleton Curtiss is among that group of also-rans, the horses that “placed” and “showed” in the race to notoriety and starchitectural status. So, looking at the Presbyterian church in Frankfort, Kansas these last couple days has engaged some wheels that were becoming a bit rusty.

Frankfort 158KSfrankfortPresPage 015

The image at the top of this post is the most recent to arrive—thanks to a member of the Frankfort church, who confirms that the building was constructed in 1906, a bold and optimistic move. The nuance of this design, its proportion, materials and detailing, are much more than accidental. This is a work of more than simple constructional skill. Happily, there was an architect in Kansas City who was active in the market are of central Kansas: Louis Singleton Curtiss, often called the Frank Lloyd Wright of KC.

It was the Dutch gable and uncoursed limestone that led me to Curtiss. I knew his work from a mid-1960s article in Progressive Architecture that first brought him to our attention; the author, as I recall, was a dentist with architectural enthusiasm. Wonder if its too late to make his acquaintance.

The article mentioned some of Curtiss’s larger works in Kansas City and St Louis, but it also featured a series of railroad station-hotels for the Santa Fe, a string of buildings in Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico. The former depot in Wellington, KS provides a connection with the as yet unattributed church in Frankfort. Dutch gables aren’t rare, but when they are combined with uncoursed limestone ashlar the link becomes more convincing. I’m anxious to correspond at length with my new source in Frankfort and explore other sources (newspaper, advertisements-for-bids, denominational literature, etc.) and test my hypothesis. What think you?

New Santa Fe Hotel Wellington

New Santa Fe Hotel Wellington

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