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Archive for Monday, December 28, 1998

IN EVERYDAY LIVES.

December 28, 1998

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Architecture tells us about the past. It anchors us, a Kansas University professor says.

Sitting in the parlor of a Queen Anne-style home on Louisiana Street, Dennis Domer discussed what the home, its neighborhood and its street were like more than 100 years ago.

"In the late 19th century, most of these surfaces would have been covered," he said, looking around the parlor. "It would have had a very cluttered look."

The home -- which was once owned by Albert Henley, the president of a barbed wire company -- is on a wide street, wider than many in Lawrence. Rumor has it, Domer said, the street was designed so Henley's wife, Eleanor, could turn her new automobile around without backing up.

Domer teaches architecture and history; he also tries to preserve it.

"Contemporary society is moving so fast that we don't have many anchors," he said. "One of the anchors is the past."

Remembering the past

Domer is an associate dean in the School of Architecture and Urban Design and an associate professor of American Studies. His classes are cross-listed in architecture, art history and American studies.

"I really didn't get involved in architectural history until the 1980s," he said. "I'm a native Kansan. As I got older, I began to see the importance of place. ... I used to go back to my boyhood haunts and they were gone. That kind of obliteration of the past began to alarm me."

After World War II, Domer said, society stopped building things to last. Everything's temporary, disposable.

"We take everything for granted," he said. "We should be very careful in throwing out what seems, I guess, disposable."

Domer said he doesn't look down upon the future or the present, but wants people to remember the past.

"We live in a much better place if we integrate the new and the old," he said.

Understanding the city

Domer pointed out different styles of homes in 700 block of Louisiana -- Queen Anne, Italianate.

"It was pretty typical of the Victorian," he said. "In the 19th century, this was the Alvamar."

The houses provide a cultural landscape for the time, he said. The size of the homes, the rooms and their function indicate class and the expectations of wealth. The homes of tradesmen interspersed in the wealthy neighborhood and the proximity to downtown tell much about society before the turn of the century.

Everything was within walking distance. The time was more democratic in some ways, he said. A blacksmith lived across the street from the three-story home of a company president.

On a table inside the house on Louisiana is a history of the home that was written by one of Domer's students.

"I tend to have my students work on local history projects," he said. "I use the local to demonstrate things that go beyond the local. ... Research is always more interesting when it's primary, when it's not just regurgitated."

Homes aren't built like those on Louisiana Street anymore, he said.

"We're a very expedient society; we're a very throw-away society," he said. "Our values are very different from the people that built this house."

Working to preserve

Domer is a board member of the Lawrence, the Douglas County and the Kansas preservation alliances. He is currently involved in preserving Barber School at Clinton Lake.

"What I try to do is help my students distinguish what's worth fighting for," he said. "You can't win them all. As a matter of fact, you lose a lot of them."

Sites worth saving have architectural value, cultural value or historical value, he said.

"People think it takes money to preserve," he said. "It takes time, sometimes, but it's often cheaper to preserve."

Virtues of Lawrence

He believes Lawrence definitely has something worth preserving -- its downtown.

"One of the crown jewels of the United States is our downtown," he said. "It's one of the most vital 19th century commercial centers in the United States. ... It's under threat all the time."

With the storefronts of downtown, "you feel like you're in a place," he said.

There is always more space, cheaper space in areas such as south Iowa Street, he said. But it lacks the character of downtown Lawrence.

"You can't interact with people there," he said of newer commercial developments. "It's cheap, it's efficient, it's fast -- but it's no place for a community to live."

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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