Family ties spawn modern magic


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


A brutalist sanctuary Nov. 12th


Tim Hossler

Lawrence Modern’s infatuation with 1960s brutalist architecture continues with our next event at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, a building most of us (non-Lutherans) drive by quite often. Brutalist architecture tends to elicit strong reactions, but love it or hate it you can’t ignore it. Rising from the ground like a stripped classical belfry, the Immanuel Lutheran Church reaches for the heavens with typical Lutheran clarity. The result is art and architecture that provides an inspired setting for worship. The Bible says, “The people must make a sacred Tent for me, so that I may live among them.” This is quite a tent. See you on November 12 for another stirring Lawrence Modern congregation.…/8/…/10444768/a-history-of-brutalism…/past-and-present-architect-behind-some-we……/daisy-mosaic-where-in…

—Tom, Tim, Dennis & Bill


One for the ages

Babcock Place

Jim Williams, Dick Peters & Dennis Domer (Photo: Leilani Thornton Tuttle)

The Dennis Domer-moderated Q&A on May 7 between architects Jim Williams and Dick Peters at Babcock Place, the retirement home they designed in the early 1970s for the City of Lawrence, was significant not only for recognizing the work of these two august and unrepentant modernists but also alerting us to the fact that we’re probably going to live out our final days in one of these facilities. Which is why they’re so vitally important to the community. Lawrence is fortunate that the city commissioned Peters and Williams to do this work; Babcock Place has served its purpose admirably, providing quality low cost housing in an attractive, high quality environment for 45 years. And architecturally, their building has aged very well, unlike many Brutalist-tinged designs from that era. “The exterior is durable and the rough edges provided a texture that we thought was pleasing,” said Williams. Peters added, “As with all of our projects, we were working for the client, meeting their needs and designing in ways we thought were appropriate.” Among the many hundreds of buildings designed over their 56-year partnership, their most long-lasting and significant achievement may well be a nursing home, which, like nursery schools, are included among the great works of modernism. By this measure alone, their status is secured.






Shannon Oury (Photo: Leilani Tuttle)


Jim Williams (Photo: Leilani Tuttle)


Tom Harper (Photo: Leilani Tuttle)

The May 7 gathering was a fitting tribute for two great shadow figures of modern architecture and an important day as we continue our mission to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture in Lawrence. We wish to thank the staff and residents of Babcock Place for allowing us to host the event and all those who attended.

—Tom, Dennis, Tim & Bill

‘Shadow Figures’ to appear May 7th

Design by Tim Hossler

At long last, we are delighted to bring two of Lawrence’s most esteemed modern architects, former partners Richard Peters and James Williams, together to talk about one of their most significant yet underappreciated buildings in Lawrence: the Babcock Place retirement facility at 1700 Massachusetts Street. Many people in Lawrence barely notice this 7-story Brutalist-inflected structure, built in 1973, mainly because it is out of sight. But those who take the time to study the building will find a harmonious blend of textured concrete forms sweeping to the sky that has avoided the dated feel of so many other concrete buildings like it. It merits architectural appreciation, and we are very fortunate that Dick and Jim, now in their 80s, are available to provide a retrospective. Both architects are well represented in these pages, having figured in a number of residential properties in Lawrence, but their staggering commercial output has impacted our landscape in ways that are easy to overlook — Babcock Place being just one case in point. Our esteemed architectural historian Dennis Domer has spoken often of the so-called “shadow figures” who have shaped much of what we recognize as midcentury modern architecture. They are legion, but their numbers are dwindling. Join us on May 7th for a rare opportunity to listen to these veteran modern architects discuss their craft.

– Tom, Tim, Dennis & Bill

Go International Style on Jan. 28th


After finding inspiration in the contemporary architecture presented at the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933, KU history professor James C. Malin designed and built one of the first ‘Modern’ houses in Lawrence. A radically new design in 1930s Kansas, even today the solid concrete ‘fire-safe’ home designed in the International Style might seem more fitting in Miami Beach’s Art Deco District. James, his wife Pearl, and their nine-year-old daughter Jane moved into the house in 1935. The house remained in the family until Jane’s passing in August. The home was recently purchased by our own Tim Hossler and his wife, Ann. As preparations start for restoration and renovation, Tim and Ann have invited Lawrence Modern into the Malin house during this transitional time. This is a rare opportunity to view a time capsule from 1935.

Please join us for a tour of this one-of-a-kind house in Lawrence and celebrate the Malin family who lived in it for more than 80 years. Special guest Kansas historian Virgil Dean will speak on the importance of James C. Malin’s writings and teaching. Tim will talk about the house and their future dreams.

Parking near the house is very limited. Please do not park in the old book store parking lot. It will cost you $180 to get your car back!

We look forward to sharing the afternoon with you on the 28th.

-Tom, Tim, Bill & Dennis

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