Betty Jo Charlton, who died on July 22 at age 91, was one of the last links to a nearly forgotten Frank Lloyd Wright-KU connection. Her home at 1624 Indiana St. was designed by KU Architecture School Dean George Beal, who was a good friend of Wright’s and often hosted him when he passed through Lawrence. Betty Jo served as the first woman legislator from Lawrence from 1979 to 1994. The Beal House provided her a refuge from public affairs and allowed her to remain there until she died 20 years after retirement. She died Tuesday, July 22. Among the legislation she helped sponsor over the years was the creation of the Kansas Land Trust for the preservation of properties across the State from destruction for perpetuity. She was also a charter member of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and board member of the Douglas County Historical Museum. Lawrence Modern owes Betty Jo many thanks for allowing us to view her Wright-inspired, Usonian-style house and share it with the world. She will be missed.
One of Lawrence’s hidden gems, the Thomas House, was on full display Sunday, and polished to a high sheen by the current owners, Deb and Ray Rowden. More than 50 Lawrence Modern guests roamed the property, which in its design, siting, landscaping, and casual feel — you could say breeziness — is a fusion of modern ideas that work together beautifully. Architect Jim Williams, 78, gave a very humble talk about his 1967 design, giving much credit to the original owners, Al and Anne Thomas. Anne, in particular, had a clear vision for how the house should be built, Williams said. Like many of Lawrence’s best modern homes, the Thomas House was the work of a young modernist architect inspired by a woman, or perhaps taking direct orders from a woman. You can’t argue with the results.
“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything,” Frank Lloyd Wright famously advised. “It should be of the hill.” Few houses in Lawrence adhere to this Usonian principle better than Deb & Ray Rowden’s home at 1904 Meadowlark Lane in Lawrence, one of our top “Baker’s Dozen” houses. Designed in 1968 by Lawrence architect James Williams, AIA, and landscaped by KU’s first landscape architect, Alton Thomas, the house fulfills the rest of Wright’s decree: “Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” Come see what this marriage of hill and house has wrought on Sunday, June 29th from 3:00 – 5:00. You won’t be disappointed!
Getting there: From Iowa Street, turn west on Clinton Parkway, right on Lawrence Ave., drive up Marvonne Road and turn right on Meadowlark Lane. Parking will be challenging so please carpool and or park on Marvonne. It is a pleasant short walk up the hill. You will see the Lawrence Modern signs.
We look forward to sharing this special home, the people who designed it, and those who are now the stewards.
Please bring a small treat to share with modern friends.
Lawrence Modern was honored to have renowned (and retired) architect Ron Labinski, the “father of sports architecture,” speak about his life in architecture at the Nunemaker Center on Sunday, February 23rd. Ron was the first architect to specialize in sports and build an entire division of a large firm around it, HOK Sport. Ron introduced many innovations in sports architecture, but before all that happened he was a young modernist working at the Kansas City firm Kivett & Myers when he got an opportunity to design the Nunemaker Center on the KU campus in 1969. The result was a postmodern exercise in concrete forms that still feels fresh, artistic and contemporary. Well worth checking out if you’re on west campus near the Jayhawk Towers. Thank you Mr. Labinski!
The Nunemaker Center, home to KU’s Honors Program, keeps a low profile. A completely unobtrusive and unremarkable building along Engel Road, it often goes unrecognized by people who’ve lived in Lawrence for years. One reason why is because it is dwarfed by large multi-story buildings nearby, rendering it nearly invisible by comparison. But it is a ballerina among brutes. The unassuming facade hides a revelation inside — a stimulating mix of concrete geometrical shapes, angles and light. As envisioned by Irene Nunemaker, a longtime executive with Avon cosmetics whose generosity made the building possible, the design was to provide an “exciting educational environment” for students. It has indeed done well in that regard. All of which is a bit ironic: it was designed by Ron Labinski, FAIA, an architect regarded as the father of sports facility architecture. But the architecture speaks for itself. It has be seen to be appreciated, or perhaps discovered for the first time.