Louis Curtiss, who left his mark on Kansas City and other locations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was one of those incredibly rare architects who was just weird enough to do really, really, interesting work. While often compared to Frank Lloyd Wright, he was much less disciplined than Wright in that his designs were highly eclectic; Curtiss was not afraid to throw multiple influences together. Like Wright, many of his early buildings were fairly conventional-looking. But then he loosed up and was designing some very innovative buildings prior to his death at the age of only 59. Described in seemingly contradictory terms as both “private” and “flamboyant”, Curtiss remains something of a mystery today. An excellent 1991 biography by Wilda Sandy and Larry K. Hancks entitled Stalking Louis Curtiss paints as full a picture of the man as may be possible… it is well worth reading. Born in Canada in 1865, Curtiss emigrated to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1887 where he worked until his death in 1924. The various stylistic influences he frequently mixed together were always tied together in a pleasing manner that still captivates today. Of the more than 200 projects attributed to him, only a fraction survive. Let’s take a look at some of them! All images are courtesy of Google Street View.
Started in 1908 and completed in 1909, this commercial structure by Curtiss also contained his studio on the second floor and his home (sometimes described as “bohemian”) on the third. He died here, at his drafting table, in 1924. The terra cotta cornice includes a cartouche which is monogrammed “LC”. Curtiss made use of the curtain wall in many of his commercial structures. The current color scheme is not original. 1118-20 McGee, KCMO.
Rule residence, 1903-04. Many stylistic influences are found here; the quirky Art Nouveau entry is a favorite subject for photographers. 4340 Oak, KCMO.
Miller residence, 1920-21. The interior of this house was as eclectic as the exterior; it survived largely intact until at least the 1990’s. Though the kitchen and baths have been altered, there is still much originality inside as can be seen on a former Zillow listing. The living room ceiling is amazing! 2204 Washington Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas.
Neglected and vandalized shell of the former Joplin Union Terminal Company station, 1910-11. Noted for its inclusion of mining waste in the concrete mix. Here’s a short YouTube video for a more poignant views. Joplin, Missouri.
Tromanhauser residence, 1914-15. A small, but grand, bungalow. 3603 West Roanoke Drive, KCMO.
Corrigan residence, 1912-13. Unquestionably Curtiss’ most opulent residential design,the house was built for fellow Canadian Bernard Corrigan who died prior to its completion. The use of stained glass is especially interesting. Although the interior of the house has received some alterations in recent years, its equally mind-boggling exterior is still intact. The entry hall and staircase are especially noteworthy. Numerous photos may be seen in the listing on Zillow. 1200 West 55th, KCMO.
The Boley Clothing Company building, 1908-09. Here the terra cotta facade is undergoing restoration! 1124-30 Walnut, KCMO.