This Frank Lloyd Wright Home Will Take You Back To 1950s Kansas City
Briarcliff Hills, in Kansas City's Northland, is a neighborhood with spectacular views of the city and the Missouri River Valley. But the cars driving through on a recent Saturday morning at a snail’s pace aren’t here for that view. They’re eager to glimpse the private home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957 for Frank and Eloise Bott.
For fans of the celebrated American architect, the Bott House is a sort of pilgrimage.
“It’s not uncommon on a weekend morning especially to see people drive by, stop in the middle of the road,” says Kevin Worley, who lives just across the street from the green-roofed, stone and concrete house. “Sometimes they’re just looking. Sometimes they’ll actually get out, take photographs.”
Worley says the building draws a lot of attention. “It’s pretty obvious when they’re here because more often than not they’ll just stop right in the middle of the road and take a peek at the house," he says.
Perhaps more than anyone, Kansas City architect Homer Williams understands the fervor. And, from time to time, Williams opens the house to give a tour.
“Well, this is the living room and, as you can see, the view is the whole reason the house was built here,” says Williams as he steps inside. “You can see five counties from here and at this time of year before all the leaves are on, you can actually get a pretty good panorama of 180 degrees.”
Inside, little has changed since Williams purchased the house from Eloise Bott. It’s like stepping back in time to the 1950s. Straight backed chairs are upholstered with blue, lime and lilac fabric. A reddish-brown Honduran mahogany covers the walls. The room is dominated by a monumental stone fireplace.
“You could actually stand up in the fireplace,” Williams says. “It’s designed similarly to many of the homes he did. One great surprise is why he chose the desert stone system here in Kansas City. Nobody will ever know, but we know it was Wright’s idea because the original color drawings that are signed and dated by him feature the desert stone.”
These drawings were preserved, just like all the original furniture — first by the Bott family and then by Williams.
“I grew up in the era that revered Frank Lloyd Wright," he says. “What he wanted to do was to create a new American architecture. He came up with what he thought were distinctly American characteristics."
Williams soon discovered that there are unexpected burdens with a unique home. Mundane repairs can lead to big expenses.
“The kind of fixtures that you have here, you don’t buy off the shelf,” he says. “These are designed for here. So when a lavatory quits, you don’t just call a plumber and have it fixed. You call the plumber, they come and then they go to the machine shop to have the part made. And then they come back and fix it.”
More than a few of the architect’s experiments have not fared well in the freeze and thaw cycle of the Midwestern climate. One costly example for the Bott House was Wright’s original green-hued terne metal roof.
“The week before the new roof went on, we got a deluge and there were 23 plastic buckets throughout the house,” Williams says.
About a dozen years ago, Williams covered the roof with a rubberized polymer from Switzerland. It matches the color of the original. So far, that’s kept out the driving Missouri rains. And yet Williams says the charms outweigh the irritations.
“As far as the Wright touch, you wonder if sometimes the sun reflects on a certain point if he planned that,” he says. “The guy was brilliant and not everything he did was perfect, by any means. But he certainly was a pioneer and a path leader in some of the things that happened in American architecture and how we look at things.”
When Eloise Bott decided to sell her house to Williams in 1987, she made it clear that ownership brought responsibility.
“We were good friends," says Williams with a laugh. “She knew what I could undertake and she made sure that I was able to do it. She was quick to add that, ‘You are going to have two or three times that cost in taking care of it,’ which has been pretty accurate.”
Williams says he’s looking to the future and the possibility of a new owner. He's determined to pass the torch to someone who will respect the spirit of the house and its furnishings.
“You know I’ve been here for almost 30 years,” he says. “I won’t be here many more and so that question of what will happen to it is something that concerns me. You know, I sure wouldn’t want to see somebody come in and add another bedroom or enclose the garage. There are a lot of things that you might want as an owner, but shouldn’t happen here.”
For now, at least, Williams says he’s content to enjoy the Frank Lloyd Wright gem that he calls home.
Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR 89.3. Follow her @juliedenesha.