A constructivist appreciation

On May 1st, Lawrence Modern gathered for its first event in nearly three years at the former Zimmerman Steel building in east Lawrence. A veritable Sunday buffet of architecture cogniscenti were guest speakers, including the Lawrence Preservation Alliance’s Dennis Brown, architect Stan Hernly, our own Tom Harper and Dennis Domer, as well as the principals from Mar Lan Construction, who seized an opportunity to buy the property a few years ago, promptly fell in love with it, and went through a lengthy and painstaking process of refurbishing this vital piece of Lawrence industrial history. What started out as a hardware store with a steel fabrication shop on Mass. St. after WWII continues to serve the Lawrence construction community, and thanks to Hernly is now on the historic registers as a significant example of midcentury modernism.

The interesting thing about the Zimmerman Steel building is that it appeals equally to the left and right brain: to the Mar Lan construction team, the building is an attractive and functional workspace; in the eyes of experts like Hernley and Domer, an unadorned manufacturing facility with a folded plate (aka, “zig zag”) roof. Hernly said the aesthetic is defined by utilitarian parts and pieces of steel and metal, akin to Russian constructivist architecture. Domer said when he looks at the Zimmerman Steel building he thinks of automobile dealerships from the 50s and 60s, and when he looks at the zig zag roof he sees a 1958 Dodge with big tail fins. “The beauty is the design of the building, but the structural pieces are what make it beautiful,” Domer said. Praising Mar Lan’s renovation effort, he summed up the proceedings: “You really understood what you had, and now you’ve preserved it for another generation. The next generation is going to adore this place, if not already, like we do.”

Zig Zag love May 1st

Chris Millspaugh

For our first event in more than two years, we are excited to offer fans of midcentury modern industrial style buildings—count us among them—the opportunity to tour one of the most noteworthy examples in Lawrence, the Zimmerman Steel building, now owned by Mar Lan Construction. Built in 1959 (an office designed by the local architecture firm of Robertson & Ericson was added in 1963), for decades the building’s corrugated metal siding and zig-zag roof design clearly communicated its intent: custom steel fabrication. The only one of its type in the immediate area, Zimmerman Steel in many ways resembled a German mittelstand, a small family-owned business that occupied a niche market in manufacturing. “[Owner] Lee Zimmerman didn’t do gigantic steel fabrication jobs, he would pick up the small pieces,” said Mar Lan Construction’s Kevin Markley. “He did tons, just miles and miles and miles of handrails and guide rails, bollards, trash gates and things like that, and sometimes he would fabricate all of the steel.” Some of the most significant buildings the company provided material for included the Hallmark production facility; the expansion of Kansas University Memorial Stadium; the new Frasier Hall on the KU campus; the rebuilding of the Kansas Student Union; the Varsity Theater; and the old Lawrence Public Library.

Mar Lan Construction purchased the property in 2019 and spent a year carefully refurbishing the exterior, remodeling the interior office, and significantly upgrading the landscaping. They have done a fantastic job of preserving the building’s architectural integrity, feel, and history. In 2020 architect Stan Hernly of Hernly and Associates spearheaded a move to add the Zimmerman Steel building to the National Register of Historic Buildings, noting that it “expresses important design principles of modern architecture through its use of distinctive design, form, and construction techniques.” The building was added to the Register as locally significant in April 2021.

Join us on May 1st to see and learn more about the preservation of this historic modern building. Presentation by Mar Lan’s Kevin Markley (principal and vice president of marketing) and Stan Hernly. Architectural context and expert appreciation from our own Dennis Domer, fresh back from his winter haven in Arizona.

Don’t miss this special architectural experience!

Modern meets the levee on May 11

Lawrence Modern Open Houses May 2019

Tim Hossler

The fusion of vernacular and modern is not unique to Lawrence but so many interesting examples abound here—Dan Rockhill’s contemporary prairie designs come to mind—that they have become a kind of regional architectural dialect. Nowhere is this more evident than in North Lawrence, where cues from the surrounding landscape and architecture—broad, flat floodplain with grain elevators and chicken coops—have been applied to a cluster of homes near the Kaw River levee. The resulting small farm industrial look is interesting architecturally and geographically, if only because it’s hard to imagine these structures belonging anywhere else. Many of them have been design-built by Scott Trettel, including the first home on our tour (226 N. 6th Street) owned by Becky Harpstrite. A modern take on the so-called “dogtrot” style common in the south, the house has two separate living areas connected by a glass-enclosed breezeway. It also features the traditional Japanese Shou Sugi Ban treatment on the exterior siding, where the wood has been charred with blowtorches to achieve a rustic look. The result is stunningly beautiful.

The second home on the itinerary, located at 718 Ash Street, fuses shed-roof modernism with a native Rockhillian feel. (Indeed, owners Steve and April Evans owned Rockhill’s “Kansas Longhouse” for six years before moving into town.) The house is a design collaboration between Steve, a retired architect, architect Dan Hermreck, and builder Kenn Peters, who together have created a house responsive to the long and narrow site with views toward the levee. A house that is modern architecturally, but vernacular in nature.

We look forward to sharing these special homes with you in North Lawrence. Please tread lightly because it is a residential neighborhood and the streets are narrow. Parking will be challenging. Please carpool, or park near the parks. Do not park on Walnut or Ash Streets. Consider walking from 226 N. 6th St. to 718 Ash St., it is only a few blocks away.

Tom Harper, Tim Hossler, Dennis Domer & Bill Steele

 

All Aboard for Depot celebration!

Lawrence_Modern_Depot_Celebration_Feb_2018_Final

Tim Hossler

The extensive renovation of the Santa Fe Depot is completed. It is one of the greatest midcentury preservation efforts in the State of Kansas and arguably the most significant in Lawrence history.

The Depot was designed by Warren Corman and Warren Jones and completed in 1956. Preservation efforts have drawn a diverse group of activists with various interests, yet everyone shared a common goal to preserve the train station after years of neglect.

Lawrence Modern has been involved since the beginning when Depot Redux, the non-profit advocacy group led by Carey Maynard-Moody, was formed nine years ago. Depot Redux has worked diligently with numerous city commissions, two city managers, the Historic Resource Commission, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and Amtrak for the City to transfer ownership of the building. This enabled the City to submit the nomination written by our own Dennis Domer for the depot to be listed on the National, Kansas and Lawrence Historic Registers, which in turn facilitated a Transportation Enhancement grant administered by the Kansas Department of Transportation and matching monies from the City to fund the extensive renovation.

On February 22nd you will find that the building looks very similar to what it looked like in 1956. What you won’t see is the new geothermal HVAC, new electrical, plumbing and new roof. There is new aluminum fascia wrapped around the various roof elevations and fresh paint. The bathrooms, entrances, walkways, and platform now meet American with Disabilities (ADA) guidelines. The original (but still operable) windows have interior storm windows and screens that blend seamlessly with the north and south window walls.

First Management Construction was in charge of the renovation and Stan Hernly of Hernly Associates Inc. was the architect who made sure the renovation adhered to the historic guidelines.

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard provided the leadership and determination for the Depot ownership to be transferred to the City. Without Diane’s persistence, the Depot would still be owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe and falling into a worsening state of disrepair.

We are happy and grateful to all of the citizens of Lawrence who were involved with this successful preservation effort and look forward to celebrating the refurbished Depot with you.

Link to the nomination for the National & State Historic Register:

https://www.kshs.org/resource/national_register/nominationsNRDB/Douglas_SantaFeDepot_LawrenceNR.pdf

– Tom, Dennis, Tim & Bill

Family ties spawn modern magic

Lawrence_Modern_Open_House_April_2018

Tim Hossler

The Zimmerman House, built in 1955, is a thoroughly modern house of a kind not otherwise found in Lawrence. Strongly influenced by Japanese architecture and to a lesser extent by European modernism, it presented a strikingly different house than most people in Lawrence had ever experienced. It was so different that it bewildered, even offended, which paralleled an emotional reaction many people had to modern, non-representational paintings of a Picasso, Juan Miro, or Mark Rothko. Like these paintings that didn’t look like art to many people, the Zimmerman house didn’t look like a house to many people. It was shocking, a response to modernism scholars later described as the “shock of the new.”

As an architecture and engineering student at KU in the 1940s, Warren C. Heylman was steeped in modern architecture. He personally experienced Japanese architecture during his service in the U.S. Navy after World War II and in the Korean War. He also knew how much Japanese architecture had influenced Frank Lloyd Wright who had visited the KU campus while Heylman was a student. Shortly after Heylman began his practice in Spokane, Washington, in the 1950s, he married into the Zimmerman family of Lawrence. Lee Zimmerman was a very successful businessman who founded the Zimmerman Steel Company and in that business he was persuaded by the value and economy of industrialized building principles. Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman owned a house lot in a new subdivision south of 23rd Street, and they were ready for the new architectural ideas and building practices that Heylman championed and that Kenny Frank, an important Lawrence contractor, could build. The Zimmerman House was one of Heylman’s earliest projects in a long, nationally prominent architectural practice, which he still leads today in Spokane, Washington, at 94.

What made the Zimmerman House so modern and shocking at the time? To the viewer, it did not have the traditional exterior ornamentation of a commonly known house style that hid the structural system. It had no gables. Instead, to the dismay of many people, the architect employed an umbrella structural system as the ornamentation, which carried a nearly flat roof on a two-story house, divided the house into four sections, expressed how the modular interior was laid out, and provided the umbrella infrastructure for both the unorthodox fenestration on the exterior, and the walls, doors, and hanging stairs on the interior. On the inside, the space flowed freely with as few walls as possible. Light poured into the interior from large windows, especially the north, two-story window wall. Building materials and the details of construction were celebrated in the interior and exterior design. All these features were highly unusual. They made the house shocking and they made it modern. In Lawrence architecture, these features and their integrity also make the Zimmerman House a uniquely historic residential property, along with the rich story of its owners and architect.

We are very excited to announce that Helyman, FAIA, and Lee Zimmerman, the original owner, are scheduled to attend our event on April 14 and share their stories of this remarkable house, which is now listed on the Lawrence Historic Register. The Open House will be from 3-5 p.m. with presentations starting at 4 p.m. Guests are encouraged to bring a dish to share.

This is an event you do not want to miss!!

-Tom, Dennis, Tim & Bill

 

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