Archive for Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Town Talk: Preservationists surprised by odd move of Varsity House; University National’s merger with Wichita bank scrapped; why no love for Roosevelt’s Lawrence fountain speech?

December 7, 2011


Subscribe to the Town Talk email edition

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.


Rusty Thomas 6 years, 5 months ago

Wow! The UNB/Equity merger was due to be effective on 12/12/ 11. I bank there (but not much) and had received all the info. I hate the way the employees were being treated. If I were they, I would keep looking for a new position, elsewhere, as there is no guarantee this won't happen in the future. The story going around: when the merger was announced, Sutherland called a meeting and advised everyone of the plan and stated that he would have a job. Nice.

blindrabbit 6 years, 5 months ago

I'm surprised the folks in the 9th and New Hampshire neighborhood are not complaining about the Roosevelt fountain being moved to South Park around 1929 because of "the pesky automobiles'. They seem to be off-put by any new development in that area; maybe they would rather deal with the horse manure that likely accumulated around the fountain when it was there.

irvan moore 6 years, 5 months ago

i'm thinking "something" will happen to prevent the house from being put back the way it was and it will be a 4 plex that sorta looks kinda like the old house.

ljwhirled 6 years, 5 months ago

Like the "accidental" fire that destroyed the historic barn near Kasold and Peterson. Convenient that.

I'll take your "something" and raise you to "accidentally destroyed". Poorly loaded materials fall off highway and into landfill? Fire? Mold?

So many bad things can happen "accidentally" when you disassemble a building and haul it off in a flat bed truck.

blindrabbit 6 years, 5 months ago

What's the likliehood of the Oread House ever being re-assembled once it is dismantled; it will be like trying to complete a puzzle with missing parts. I'm betting against!

readit 6 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for the info on UNB. I was shocked to receive an email this morning that the merger was off. Good thing I hadn't cut up my UNB cards. Would love to know if I should be thinking of changing banks. Keep the info coming.

redfred 6 years, 5 months ago

At least you got an e-mail. I had to read it here. Thanks LJW, no thanks UNB.

Mike Myers 6 years, 5 months ago

Good luck to Fritzel or his architect for ever getting a project involving historic preservation in this town.

Hudson Luce 6 years, 5 months ago

Maybe the horse manure problem is why they didn't have Obama give a speech there...

Mike Myers 6 years, 5 months ago

Good luck to Fritzel or his architect for ever getting a project involving historic preservation in this town.

blindrabbit 6 years, 5 months ago

stream: The way the Repubs are headed, you'll have 5 more years to deal with Obama. That is unless the country is hoodwinked into another mess like Dubya left us with.

John Hamm 6 years, 5 months ago

My money's on "something disastrous will happen to the dismantled house when it's in storage." Any takers?

Sarah St. John 6 years, 5 months ago

"An astute City Hall employee pointed out to me..."

"Records show...."

How embarrassing that my fellow workers do not read OHT. grin You do not need astute City Hall workers -- you have ME! :-)

From July 11, 1910: "The magnificent five ton marble fountain which the efforts of the local Humane Society has made possible for Lawrence has arrived. The drinking basin is to be located at New Hampshire and Warren and despite its substantial size will not materially obstruct the thorough-fare.”

August 18, 1910: “The driving horse of John Ise, humane officer, was the first to drink from the new granite fountain after water was turned on yesterday. It was closely followed by others and before the day closed the buggies in the neighborhood had learned of the new watering place and were trotting on frequent visits to the little round founts at the base of the big fountain...." (Yep, it was for horses, also other animals -- take a look at the design of the fountain; that's why it had all those different levels. The top basins were for birds!)

August 27, 1910 -- Roosevelt asked to dedicate fountain: (They had been planning to have a local dignitary, but what's a mayor or a governor compared to a President?)

Here's the best one! See comments for the "Reporter's Diary" of the President's arrival at the fountain, plus the media coverage (1910 style) and the speech itself! Enjoy! And in honor of the fountain's original purpose, make sure to give your pets a drink! :-)

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

Yes, that's for sure, Sarah! And they didn't read the City of Lawrence's website that discussed the fountain, either! The problem with any historic or tourist destination is that if you live too close to it, it loses all its significance for you!
Clipped from:

"On August 31, 1910, a crowd of 6,000 citizens and visitors attended a formal dedication of the Roosevelt Fountain, the granite display fountain. President Theodore Roosevelt was present at the ceremony, arriving by train at the Santa Fe station in Lawrence. The fountain was originally located at the intersection of New Hampshire and Warren (now Ninth) Streets, because of its proximity to a livery stable.

However, with increasing automobile traffic, the fountain's location soon became unpopular after many dented fenders. The fountain was moved to Robinson Park in 1929, just west of present-day City Hall, with the promise of protection.

In 1965, the Lawrence Flower Club members, celebrating their 40th year, petitioned the city commission and parks department to move the forgotten fountain to a site in South Park. Later, a rose garden was created in South Park by Robert Rankin.

The fountain needed cleaning and restoration by 1982, and, once again with the request of the Lawrence Flower Club, the fountain was restored."

TruthSayer 6 years, 5 months ago

Point #1; Lawrence developers get there way....period. Point #2; Who cares what banks merge! point #3; I was part of the Sesquicentennial Point project 2 years ago and suggested getting Obama as a speaker for a 150th celebration. After all, the war that brought about the changes necessary for a black man to become president started here in Lawrence! All the "hoity-toities" balked at the idea of a formal celebratory event. The idea was to have a multicultural event, with Native American dancers, historical re-in-actors and indigenous musical artists such as Kansas, Melisa Etheridge, Chuck Mead and Martina McBride.It was to be held at the Sesquicentennial Point by Clinton Lake. The money was there, the desire to utilize it, wasn't. The "hoity-toities" said they didn't want to pay for a "party". Apparently they didn't want to pay for a "celebration" either. Instead, the money was heaped out to install a small display of photos and inaccurate maps in the museum at 9th and Vermont. Seriously, go check out the large painted murals that adorn the entry way and wonder why it just doesn't look right (especially if you know your Kansas/Missouri geography). Then go ask what did that cost? Point #4; What ever happened to true investigatory journalism. There is no way you can tell me that there is no under the table, double dealing, scandalous politics going on in Lawrence. The trouble is that the local media is more worried about "fluff" than true journalism (you know, the kind that can expose abuses of power by those that are entrusted by the public). But I guess the World Company doesn't care if the public gets ripped off as long as their buddies at the country club make a buck!

parrothead8 6 years, 5 months ago

1) Thanks for letting us know. 2) People who have accounts at one of the banks care. 3) Yawn. 4) Do you actually read this paper?

Steve Jacob 6 years, 5 months ago

UNB will not survive much longer is my guess. The bank or the FDIC will give no notice when they close. Plus, when someone takes over a bank from the FDIC, you get a good deal.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

As a customer of UNB I would like to know more about why the merger was canceled at the last minute and why the reason is so hush-hush. Had to make sure all bills were paid before today because automatic bill paying was to be suspended between the 7th and the 12th as the transition was made. Since the changeover was going to start taking place today and new cards had been sent out---received at least four separate mailings from Equity besides numerous emails---not only was a lot of money wasted on that, but I'm sure more will have to be spent to stop the merger. Is stopping a merger at the last minute very common?

I am glad that the good people at UNB will not be losing their jobs. Since I have less than $100,000.00 in the bank (way less), I guess I don't have to worry about the bank closing.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 5 months ago

The FDIC deposit guarantee is now $250,000.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Well, that takes a load off my mind. : )

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 5 months ago

I really appreciate OldHomeTown (Sarah St. John) and Ron Holzwarth's replies about the fountain! I never knew any of this before. Thank you.

Sunny Parker 6 years, 5 months ago

Dear are confused. Fritzel owns the property where the Varsity House 'used' to sit. He is not just a local contractor bidding for jobs in Lawrence! The architect you mention, Werner, works for Fritzel and will for a very long time.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.