Architecture enthusiasts this weekend got a chance to peek inside a Prairie Village landmark whose construction was so controversial it landed a handful of carpenters in jail.
In the mid-1960s, Paul Searing had returned to his native Kansas City from graduate school in Arizona and was looking to build a house for himself and his wife, Jody.
But Searing didn’t want a house that looked like everything else on the block. So he commissioned famed architect Bruce Goff to design a modern home for him and bought a lot in Leawood. But when the developer got a look at the plans — a triangular layout with carports and a steeple on top — he deemed the house “too dangerous” and gave Searing his money back.
Undeterred, Searing found another lot — this one a decommissioned power sub-station that KC Power & Light was selling on the corner of Fontana Street and 79th Street in Prairie Village.
Goff and the contractor got to work, and Searing thought the home would be built without much further ado. But one day Searing stopped by the site on his way home from work to find that construction on the home had been halted. What’s more, all of the carpenters who had been at work that afternoon were a few blocks away — in the Prairie Village police jail in the basement of the Village Shops.
The J.C. Nichols company, which owned all of the property surrounding Searing’s house, had filed a court order stopping construction, claiming that Searing needed to get permission to move forward with the design. When the Prairie Village police came by to enforce the order, the carpenters resisted in a manner offensive enough to the police that they were thrown in jail.
Searing marched into the Nichols offices on the Plaza looking for answers. They told him the home looked “like a drive-through bank” and didn’t meet the design standards of the neighborhood. Searing countered that since the property had never belonged to Nichols, their design standards didn’t apply. Moreover, the carpenters union was preparing to strike on the site of Nichols’ as-of-yet-unfinished Oak Park Mall on account of the encounter with the cops.
Nichols eventually relented, and the contractor completed the house in 1967.
Searing died in January, and to honor his contributions to modern architecture in the Kansas City area, some of his fellow architecture enthusiasts with KC Modern decided to host a tour of the three Goff-designed homes in the area.
In addition to the Searing home, there is the Lawrence Hyde House at 5020 W. 67th Street in Prairie Village, and the Nicol House at 5305 Cherry Street.
For more background on the Searing House and Goff, see this website. And check out the pics below.