Tearing down an old home isn’t the only way to start a historic preservation battle in Lawrence. Moving one can create quite a stir, too.
Lawrence city commissioners at this evening’s meeting will wade into the issue of whether The Varsity House, 1043 Ind., ought to be moved down the block to make way for a unique apartment complex slated for 11th and Indiana streets.
Historic preservationists in the city are lining up against the idea, instead saying that the 1908 home, which is a rarity because it was designed by a female architect and regularly housed Kansas University’s varsity football team in the 1950s, can stay where it is and become a prominent part of the new development.
“What we’re thinking is, come on, developers, you have a great corner property here with great history. We would love for them to use it to their advantage instead of viewing it as a stumbling block,” said Dennis Brown, president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance.
Attempts to reach Lawrence architect Paul Werner — a representative for the project’s development group, which is led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel — were not successful Monday.
But previously Werner has said if the house can’t be moved, it would jeopardize the project, which calls for building 50 apartments and two levels of underground parking.
Werner previously has said the house needs to be moved because its current corner location splits two lots of the property, making it difficult to build around. Werner’s plans call for the house to be moved to the northern edge of the development, and to be refurbished as a boarding house.
City commissioners are being asked to make a ruling on what the project can and can’t do. The city Historic Resources Commission already has ruled — on a 5-2 vote — that moving the house off its corner location will damage the “environs” of the nearby Oread Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Technically, the city-appointed Historic Resources Commission has the final say on whether the project would damage the historic district. But city commissioners can make a finding that there is “no feasible and prudent” alternative to moving the house, which would allow the project to proceed despite the objections of the city’s historic preservation board. But to do so, commissioners also will have to set aside a recommendation by the city’s historic resources administrator. The administrator, Lynne Braddock Zollner, said the development of apartments at the intersection is appropriate, but moving the house hasn’t been shown to be the only alternative for the project to proceed.
Brown said he believes there are alternatives to moving the house. He said Lawrence architect Stan Hernly has developed a concept plan with the house at its current location that shows essentially the same size of apartment project with underground parking. Brown said for historic preservationists, keeping the house on the corner is of high importance.
“It was a prominent house on a prominent corner when it was built,” Brown said. “If we move it, we’ll be losing some history.”