Location: West Hills
Architect: Robert W. Hess
Builder: John Kapfer
Year built: 1952
Original Owners: Mr. & Mrs.Mayer Litwin
Current ranking: 6 (view details)
Robert Hess was fresh out of the KU architecture program when Mr. and Mrs. Mayer Litwin, owners of the Litwin’s clothing store on Massachusetts Street, approached him in the spring of 1951 about designing their dream home in the West Hills. The Litwin’s knew exactly what they wanted: a one-story house with attached garage, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large dressing area, a formal living and dining area, a study and a screened porch in the back. They also wanted a house that stood out from the crowd. “You get some sketches on it and a plan and we’ll go from there,” they told Hess. More than $30,000 later, they got their wish.
One of the most substantial and classically beautiful midcentury houses in Lawrence, it exemplifies Frank Lloyd Wright’s dictum that a house should never be on the hill, but of the hill. Indeed, the design bears strong traces of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style period: in frontal aspect the house is reminiscent of the Robie House with its elongated horizontal roofline, Roman brick exterior facing, and hidden entryway, which is elegantly integrated into the sloping contour of the site. The entry steps ascend directly underneath a wide overhang, closing space as they gradually rise, creating a sense of intimacy before one reaches the recessed doorway.
The interior opens up with pitched ceilings made of lovely Korina checkerboard paneling. The core living-dining-kitchen area pivots around a corner fireplace that spans floor to ceiling, providing a dominant focal interest and also support for the hidden scissors truss. This concealment is further echoed in a long list of innovative built-ins, including a drop-down ironing board in the kitchen, a drop-down quilting table in the study, locked silverware drawers in the kitchen, cleverly designed shoe storage in the dressing room, and numerous recessed doors. Perhaps the best built-in is the glass louvered sun porch, which is conveniently located next to the kitchen. The cumulative effect of these features is a house that feels uncluttered and relaxed, yet formal in atmosphere.
In site planning, architectural design, and organization, the Litwin House fit the needs of a prominent Jewish family who realized the American Dream in 1950s Lawrence, Kansas. The current owners, Jack and Hodgie Bricke, have carefully updated and maintained the property to protect its integrity and uniqueness as a Midwestern modern classic.