The Wiseman House: a lesson learned in preservation

West Hills. Architect: Huson Jackson, 1952

West Hills. Architect: Huson Jackson, 1952

Location: West Hills
Architect: Huson Jackson
(architectural plans)
Builder: Robert M. Still
(photos)
Year built: 1952*
Original Owners: Mr. & Mrs. Gordon Wiseman
*Demolished in 2007

Gordon Wiseman, Professor Emeritus of Physics at KU, built this award-winning T-shaped house for his wife and family based on plans he saw in a McCall’s magazine article. It was designed by Huson Jackson, a New York City-based architect and professor of architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Jackson sold the plans to Wiseman for $45. After making a few modifications, Wiseman hired the best builder in town, Bob Still, to construct the core of the house; Wiseman finished two of the bedrooms, did the electrical, and installed the furnace by himself. Total cost was $20,000.

The 1,400 sq.ft. house contained a living area, three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, a half basement and garage. The layout formed a T shape, with the head of the T facing the street. The combination of the vertical cedar boarding and brick on the street side, plus the strong horizontal line of the roof facing, created a pleasing facade. The plan was pleasingly open; high ceilings and large windows made the rooms seem much larger than they were. Like many good midcentury modern houses, the design balanced aesthetics and functionality on a human scale — there was nothing insensible about it.

After he semi-retired from KU, Wiseman sold the house to a landscape architect in 1991. The house was demolished in 2007 to make way for a McMansion. (See photos.)

Tom Harper took these photos shortly before the demolition. The City of Lawrence had issued a building permit allowing the house to be modified extensively, but a contractor from out of town tore the structure down to the subfloor. The required 30-day period from application for demolition permit to demolition was bypassed. The city fined the contractor and put an incident report on his contractor license record. Had the house been razed according to procedure, Lawrence Modern would have had 30 days to attempt to affect the future of the house. The Lawrence Preservation Alliance also would have notified neighborhood organizations of the pending demolition.

Entryway

Entryway

Living room facing entry

Living room facing entry

Fireplace

Fireplace

Built-in bookshelving

Built-in bookshelving

Kitchen

Kitchen

View from sheltered terrace

View from sheltered terrace

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