A new reign: Lawrence landmark the Castle Tea Room open again after extensive renovations

Andre Bollaert, executive director of the Castle Tea Room, makes his way down the main staircase and into the entry hall of the home.

Those who attended events or had a meal at the Castle Tea Room years ago might not recognize the inside of the building today.

The Castle Tea Room, or the Castle, located at 1307 Mass., reopened in early May after undergoing massive renovations.

Since the grand opening of the Castle, André Bollaert, executive director, estimates he’s taken 300 to 400 people through the building, three-fourths of whom had been there before.

It’s those peoples’ reactions that are most interesting, Bollaert says.

“They are just amazed at how much nicer it is,” he says. “They loved the building before, but they are blown away.”

The historic landmark now boasts handmade wallpaper, new window treatments, restored stained-glass windows, an elevator and a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient heating and cooling system, among other changes.

“A lot of the expense and work that goes into an outstanding preservation project like this is not evident, because it all makes sense together,” Bollaert says. “We have beautiful woodwork that we didn’t do much to other than clean and refinish. It’s the things that you don’t see that make it a really functional building.”

The restoration of the Castle earned awards for outstanding preservation from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and from the Kansas Preservation Alliance. The building also received an award for interior lighting design.

Michael Cornwell, lead architect in the restoration of the Castle, says the restoration team was fortunate because the home’s previous owner didn’t make any major structural changes to the building, which helped the restoration project progress smoothly.

Built by Kansas architect John Haskell in 1894, the Castle was home to Gen. John Roberts and his family. The house switched owners in 1947 when Libby Kriz-Fiorito decided to turn the space into a restaurant. At that point, the Castle became known as the Castle Tea Room.

Before she died in 2004, Kriz-Fiorito moved most of her estate into the Libuse Kriz-Fiorito Historical Foundation, intending to restore the building and keep it available for public use.

“A home became a public space and then it was preserved,” Bollaert says. “That is so rare. For someone to set aside the resources to do that is just awe-inspiring to me. There are very few homes like this that are open to the public.”

Cornwell, who celebrated his grandmother’s 90th birthday at the Castle Tea Room when Kriz-Fiorito operated it, says he feels lucky to be involved in the restoration because of the historical significance of the building to the Lawrence community.

“It’ll be a nice for the Castle to still live on and continue to have people take advantage of its facilities,” says Cornwell.

Bollaert says that is exactly the legacy Kriz-Fiorito would have wanted the Castle to have.

“She didn’t want it to be a restaurant ever again,” he says. “I think she felt it would be a detriment to the building. What she really enjoyed over the years of operating it as a restaurant were the special events.”

The day after the grand opening of the Castle, Sonja Vicker hosted her daughter’s wedding reception in the building. She had eaten dinner at the Castle there years before, and the venue was the first place she thought of for the reception.

“It was very intimate,” Vicker says. “It’s a very lovely place. We had guests from out of town, they were very impressed with the facilities. It made a very good impression of Lawrence.”

Bollaert credits the warm, comfortable feeling of the house to the color palette and the lighting, especially in contrast to the previous décor.

While the Castle is only available for hosting private events, Bollaert hopes to have it open for small public events, such as tea parties, by the fall. Eventually, he would like the Castle to host programs, historical events and philanthropy projects.