There was a party last month at the Castle Tea Room and, if the Libuse Kriz-Fiorito Historic Foundation board of directors has its way, there will be many more events in the venerable building's future.
Libuse Kriz-Fiorito - better known as "Libby" to those familiar with her as the owner and operator of the Castle Tea Room for 57 years prior to her death - created the foundation to preserve and maintain its use by the public.
The five-member board is responsible for carrying out Kriz-Fiorito's wishes. On Feb. 27, the third anniversary of her death, they invited neighbors, city and county officials, and friends to see and hear the plans at an open house at the Castle Tea Room, 1307 Mass.
Since Kriz-Fiorito's death, the board has sought the community's recollections of the Castle Tea Room and visions for its future. The purpose of the open house was to share a master plan before submitting an application to the city for a special-use permit.
The Victorian-style house was designed for John N. Roberts, a Civil War veteran who later became adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard, by architect John Haskell, also known for designing many other Lawrence buildings including the Douglas County Courthouse. The building was completed in 1894.
In 1947 Libby Kriz, a Chicago native and a dietitian at Kansas University, purchased the house. She started a restaurant there: the Castle Tea Room. She later married Dr. Louis Fiorito, a physician at Leavenworth Veterans Affairs Hospital. He died in 1982.
Through the years, Kriz-Fiorito served dinners and welcomed wedding receptions and other special events at the Castle Tea Room. Before her death in 2004, she worked to ensure its future.
"When she passed, she left her estate for the purpose of seeing to the preservation of the castle," said board member Craig Patterson, discussing Kriz-Fiorito's wishes.
Those wishes were quite explicit:
l Maintain the castle's physical structure for future generations.
l Preserve and promote the castle's unique heritage.
l Continue public access to the castle for education and enjoyment.
Patterson said the board is working with the Historic Resources Commission, Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and Lawrence City Commission to get approval for restoration at the castle.
If they approve the proposal, a building permit could be issued this summer with restoration expected to take six to nine months.
Additionally, the board wants to place the residential property at 1313 Mass., directly south of the castle and owned by the foundation, on the National Register of Historic Places.
The house, which is older than the castle, would be used as a support facility for Castle Tea Room events and linked to it by a new patio and fountain. The patio would allow events to extend outdoors amid restored gardens and landscaping.
Project architect Michael Cornwell, of CP and Associates, addressed the physical changes to the castle itself by saying, "the most dramatic changes are really with the site."
New mechanical and electrical systems will be installed as well as plumbing and bathrooms, but "other than an elevator that will be put in the kitchen, very few of the rooms are going to change," Cornwell said. "We're really going to try to go back to as historically accurate as we can."
Patterson pointed to work on the Union Pacific Depot in North Lawrence as a "marvelous example of what we hope the castle will become - truly a civic property that's not owned by an individual but owned at large by the public of Lawrence."