Architect: Robert W. Hess
Builder: Byron C. Sneegas
Year built: 1955
Original Owners: Mr. & Mrs. Richard S. Howey
Current ranking: 9 (view details)
Dick Howey, a distinguished KU economics professor, was writing his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1955 when he agreed to let a young architect he’d never met named Bob Hess design the family home in a newly developed Hillcrest subdivision. He left the details to his wife, Marion, who collaborated with Hess right from the site selection process and worked closely with the builder, Byron Sneegas, to realize her vision. It was a smart decision.
Nestled high above Avalon Road, this split-level hybrid of modern and traditional architecture is noteworthy for its steep hillside siting, which was originally selected to maximize views of the Kaw River Valley. While these have since succumbed to tree growth and other vegetation, an unintended result has been a gain in intimacy and privacy that is near total in every room. The sense of seclusion is heightened in the elevated public spaces, which are enveloped by a dense camouflage of evergreens, native deciduous trees, and ivy ground covers. In the living room, elongated double hung windows frame the greenery outside as if viewed through translucent Japanese shoji screens, abstracting nature. Stained pecky cypress paneling, vaulted wood-beamed ceiling and a massive reclaimed brick fireplace combine to create an airy, cabin feel that artfully synthesizes east coast traditional and west coast modern. This architecture is rooted in its landscape, and as a reflection of culture it is emblematic.
In addition to its secluded siting, the house exhibits outstanding originality and architectural integrity. Except for minor alterations to the bathrooms, the house is unchanged. The kitchen, in particular, is a time capsule of mid-1950s contemporary living, showcasing Formica kitchen countertops, knotty pine cabinetry, a built-in barbecue, vintage gas stove and authentic Armstrong Embossed Inlaid Linoleum No. 5352. All hand-selected and preserved by Marion Howey, a former government documents librarian at the Spencer Library who knew what she wanted and usually found a way to get it.