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Archive for Sunday, October 3, 2004

Courthouse, KU buildings among architect’s work

October 3, 2004

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The Statehouse in Topeka and several of Lawrence's most prominent historic buildings have something in common: their architect.

John Haskell came to Kansas in 1857, and the work the young architect did in Lawrence contributed to the growth of the city.

When Haskell arrived from the East Coast, log cabins were the area's primary architectural feature. And the shift from rough-hewn logs to more sophisticated brick-and-stone structures was due largely to Haskell.

"Kansas at that time was virtually a desert," said Craig Patterson, architect and owner of C.P. & Associates. "As the state began to emerge and populate, he was able to galvanize and merge together many different trades of masonry and carpentry. In its infancy, he was able to bring remarkable knowledge and sophistication to the state of Kansas."

During his 50 years living in Lawrence, Haskell designed more than 30 buildings in the city and dozens more in the eastern part of the state.

Patterson has firsthand knowledge of some of Haskell's work. Patterson remodeled one of Haskell's original structures, the old English Lutheran Church at 1040 N.H., to serve as the offices of attorney Arthur A. Anderson. Patterson said the 1874 building is still functional today, much like the Douglas County Courthouse, another Haskell-designed building, which has been used for the same purpose for more than 100 years.

The old church and the courthouse, at 11th and Massachusetts streets, are on the National Register of Historic Places because of their architectural significance.

The courthouse was built in 1903, toward the end of Haskell's career, in collaboration with another architect, Frederick Gunn. Lawrence resident and historian Karl Gridley said the heavy arches, multiple towers and heavy masonry of the courthouse were typical of the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture popular in the late 1890s.

The preservation of the courthouse was among historical architecture advocates' first attempts to save an historic icon in Lawrence, Gridley said.

"It's kind of hard to imagine downtown without the courthouse," he said. "So many little towns in Kansas lost their courthouses in the 1960s; Lawrence is lucky to still have theirs."

Many styles

The Romanesque style of the courthouse differs from that of other buildings Haskell constructed, and he was able to work in many different styles, Gridley said.

"Haskell was very good at what he did," he said. "Haskell, in a way, probably had to be able to do churches, university buildings, schools and residences, because he was the only architect in town. He understood the styles and was able to transform them into buildings that Lawrence needed."

Other notable Haskell-designed buildings preserved in downtown Lawrence are Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.; First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt.; and the former Castle Tea Room, 1307 Mass.

Haskell designed many other buildings in Lawrence that have been razed. He was known for his design of old Fraser Hall -- Kansas University's first major building -- but it was torn down in 1965 because of an unstable foundation.

Haskell designed several other KU buildings, but Bailey Hall is the only one still in use.

Gridley said another Haskell building on campus would soon be functional, though. KU's old boiler room and engineering shops are being remodeled for use by the Hall Center for the Humanities.

'Eminent properties'

Architectural style and structural soundness are important in the preservation of a historic building, Gridley said, but other factors may have equal impact.

"There is a lot of caprice and serendipity involved in whether a building survives," he said. "It makes a big difference in whether people care about it."

Of the structures Haskell designed and built in Lawrence, about a dozen remain intact.

Haskell was a leader in developing the state of Kansas, Patterson said, and his buildings have not lost their significance.

"Most of his buildings are what you would call eminent properties," he said. "They give prominence and gravity to the entire community. They're icons of history and place markers in the evolution of the culture of the Lawrence community."

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