Subscribe to the email edition of Town Talk and we'll deliver you the latest city news and notes every weekday at noon.
News and notes from around town:
• Talk about a jigsaw puzzle. There is quite a sight to see at 11th and Indiana streets at the old Varsity House location. Crews are currently dismantling the house piece by piece.
If you remember, the Varsity House is the property that created a lot of concern from historic preservationists when a 50-plus unit apartment complex was proposed for the site.
The development group, led by local businessman Thomas Fritzel, originally proposed tearing the early 1900s home down. When that plan met with opposition, the plan shifted to moving the house to the north end of the lot and converting it into a boarding house. But preservationists balked at that, saying the house’s proper historic place was near the corner. Ultimately, the two sides reached a compromise where the house would be moved farther south, closer to the corner. That compromise allowed the apartment project to get the approvals it needed at City Hall to proceed.
But what the compromise didn’t do is spell out how the house would be moved. Fritzel has decided to dismantle the house — recently the roof and attic were removed — place the pieces on a flatbed trailer, and then eventually bring the house back to the site and reassemble it.
That method has caught historic preservationists by surprise. Dennis Brown, president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, said he was “shocked” when he learned that would be the method for moving the house. But he said his organization recognizes the compromise reached with Fritzel didn’t spell out how the house would be moved.
But he said he is concerned that the dismantling of the structure will ruin the integrity of the house.
“At this point, I’m just hoping they prove me wrong,” Brown said.
I chatted briefly with Fritzel via e-mail. He didn’t offer any details about the process or the decision. He only expressed surprise that some people were worrying about how his company was doing its job.
Lawrence architect Paul Werner, who is designing the apartment project, told me that the house will be back on the site in about six months.
City officials approved the dismantling method. Scott McCullough, the city’s planning director, said he could understand why moving the house completely off-site would make for a more efficient construction project at the very dense corner of 11th and Indiana streets.
Once reassembled, the structure will serve as a boarding house next to the new apartment development, which will be kind of unique in itself. It will be the first apartment complex in the Oread neighborhood to provide below-ground parking.
• Word came down last night that The University National Bank of Lawrence and Wichita-based Equity Bank have called off their plans for a merger.
The merger was announced in early September and was scheduled to be finalized later this month. I chatted with Todd Sutherland, president of The University National Bank, and he said the decision was a mutual one to part ways.
Sutherland said the change in plans means that The University National Bank will continue to operate as a locally owned bank. He said he’s not anticipating the bank to move in a different direction in the future.
“We’re moving forward,” Sutherland said. “We’re not looking at any other type of transaction.”
Sutherland did not provide any other details about the reasons that led to the aborted merger. Brad Elliot, the chairman and CEO of Equity Bank also declined to comment further on the decision, according to a report in the Wichita Business Journal.
The University National Bank in 2008 entered into an agreement with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to take steps to strengthen the bank’s position. The bank remains under that agreement today. Sutherland said the change in merger plans has nothing to do with the OCC order or its related issues, and he said many banks in the region are under similar regulatory agreements.
The called-off deal will have a positive impact on the Lawrence workforce. I had heard that nine employees of University National Bank already had been given layoff notices in anticipation of the merger. Sutherland confirmed that any layoff notices have been rescinded and that the bank plans to continue operating at its current employment levels.
• If President Obama really wanted to re-create Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 trip to Kansas where he gave an important speech in Osawatomie about New Nationalism, he would have added Lawrence’s South Park fountain to his itinerary.
An astute City Hall employee pointed out to me that the city’s records show that President Roosevelt dedicated the granite fountain that is now in South Park on Aug. 31, 1910 — which is the same day he gave his Osawatomie speech. Records show that more than 6,000 people attended the dedication ceremony for the fountain, which is now named the Roosevelt Fountain.
A little piece of trivia for you, though. The fountain is not original to South Park. According to city records, it basically was at Ninth and New Hampshire Street “because of its proximity to a livery stable.” (I don’t know. Maybe a fountain was the sign of a high-class livery stable. Or maybe it was just free water for the horses.)
Anyway, by 1929 pesky automobiles necessitated the move of the fountain to Robinson Park — which of course is the little park in between the Kansas River bridges along Sixth Street. By 1965, though, Robinson Park apparently had become as forgotten as it is today, and the Lawrence Flower Club successfully petitioned to have it moved to South Park.
President Obama’s recent visit has led me to think about two things. One, his trip to Osawatomie probably severely hurts the efforts by some local folks to have the president come to Lawrence this year as part of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Two trips to Kansas in one year doesn’t seem very likely. But who knows. I don’t think the smart money was on the president traveling to Osawatomie.
But two, and most importantly, it has led me to wonder why President Obama chose to emphasize the Osawatomie speech instead of the fountain speech. A fountain has great symbolic potential. I can almost hear it now:
“My fellow Americans, let us vow to live like a fountain. Let us shoot upward toward the limitless sky. Let our potential bubble forth like these waters that cleanse our American spirit. (It’s a political speech. It doesn’t have to make sense.) Let our resolve be strong like this granite that has stood the test of time. (What is that on the granite? Is that bird excrement? Shoo bird, shoo bird.) And let our focus be sharp. Pay no attention to these horses that are stealing our water. Why are there horses here? Let us be the world’s fountain. Oh, for crying out loud. Shoo bird, shoo bird. Bad symbolism, bad.”
OK, maybe the Osawatomie speech was the way to go.