A passion for buildings

Tom Harper, Bill Steele and Dennis Domer

A passion for buildings often brings people together who otherwise might never have met and become friends. The desire in 2009 to find and document the best modern houses in Lawrence brought me luckily into contact with two young men who wanted to do the same thing: Tom Harper, a Realtor and founder of Lawrence Modern, and Bill Steele, an administrator at KU and a modern architecture aficionado. Through his work, Tom had located about 20 residences built between 1935 and 1965 that he thought were especially worthy of consideration, and during our work together we found about a dozen more. Over the last two years we have visited more than 30 modern houses, photographed them, gathered historic photographs, scanned drawings, interviewed architects, gone to archives, talked with owners, and puzzled and marveled over what we found. All this work forged a good natured comradeship among us that is only at the beginning.

After two years on and off we are also only at the beginning of our study of modern houses but we have enough results now to share our initial findings in a collection of fine houses we call our “Baker’s Dozen.” The Baker’s Dozen indicates something about our attitude toward our subject. We are willing to go out on the limb to pick a number of the best houses we found but we also want to state that a dozen does not do justice to modern houses in Lawrence.There are many more in Lawrence we need to see and experience before we have a fuller understanding of mid century modern residential buildings and why a university town like Lawrence once proudly boasted a progressive architecture.

Recognizing that we had different backgrounds and experiences of modern architecture, we decided to reduce somewhat the subjective natures of our individual evaluations by developing ten criteria to consider on a scale of one to ten, one being the lowest score and ten being the highest score possible. If you take a look at one of the Baker’s Dozen you’ll find a “view details” button which will show you how the house fared on factors we call integrity of original design, spatial relationship of elements, quality of site, quality of materials, condition, floor plan livability, quality of natural light, memorability, artistic value, and how does the house feel. Our first evaluations found us sometimes significantly far apart on these factors but we learned from each other to quickly create a common standard that brought our evaluations sometimes into uncanny agreement. We always filled out our forms independently without discussion and right after we had completed our visits for the day. Our evaluations do not suggest some kind of truth to be accepted as gospel but rather represent the opinions of three people who love what they are doing and are willing to learn more.

This work has been especially a pleasure for me because over a career in architecture and teaching of more than 35 years I came to know most of the architects whose work we so admire. George Beal, John C. Morley, Tom Geraughty, and James Williams were outstanding faculty at the University of Kansas and practicing professionals who influenced a generation of modern architects and themselves made very important contributions to modern architecture in Lawrence and the region. Robert Hess, Warren Heylman, and Richard Peters, all graduates of KU and now well into their 80s, led architecture firms that became known for modern architecture in Los Angeles, Spokane, and Lawrence from the 1950s into the 21st century. Through their work alone, I have come to know Dana Dowd, also a KU graduate who did a number of buildings in Lawrence in the 1950s and 1960s, Mackie & Roarke and Tsuroka Martin Melvin & Osborne. All of these architects were passionately dedicated to the cause of modern architecture.

We hope that you have an enlightening time looking at our work and ask for your comments and help as we continue our study. In any case, we hope you sense our enthusiasm for the modern expression in our Kansas university town.

Dennis Domer


  1. Posted June 11, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Love your choices for the Baker’s Dozen ~ There are some really beautiful homes from the 50’s around Lawrence High School that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

    • Lawrence Modern
      Posted December 8, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Thank you Marianne. There are indeed many beautiful houses from the 50s in that area particularly.

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