Couple who call themselves stewards of historic Old West Lawrence home often host visiting artists

photo by: Mike Yoder

The home of Michel and Burdett Loomis at 701 Louisiana St.

A late-19th-century home in the Old West Lawrence neighborhood is enriched by the diverse art collection its owners proudly display, as well as the visiting artists who often frequent the house.

Though owners and longtime Lawrence residents Burdett and Michel Loomis have no formal art training, their love of art has led to a grand collection and connections with artists all over the nation, many of whom stay in the Loomises’ second-floor guest rooms when visiting Lawrence for an exhibition.

“From the time we got married and had no money, we bought art,” Burdett said. “It’s absolutely enriched our lives both in terms of what we have on the walls … but also to get to know so many artists has been terrific.”

In addition to the couple’s extensive collection, their home itself, located at 701 Louisiana St., is historic, and they see themselves as its stewards. The Old West Lawrence Neighborhood joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Michel and Burdett Loomis on the porch at their home at 701 Louisiana St. The home is in the Old West Lawrence Historic District which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Burdett and Michel are the fourth owners of the home, which was originally built in 1887, they said. The first owner, George Innes, was also the builder of the home. The second owners were in the funeral business, and the third family was only there for a few years but renovated the kitchen. Burdett and Michel purchased the home in 1985 for $119,000.

Now, Burdett and Michel are 75 and retired. Burdett was a political science professor at the University of Kansas for 41 years. He writes a column on state politics that appears in the Journal-World. Michel had a 32-year career at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, where she taught physical education and English.

In the entryway of the home is an arresting banister and fireplace mantel meant to awe guests. In 1887, the home would have been considered upper-middle class, Burdett said.

“George wanted to impress people, I think, so this is kind of two steps up,” Burdett said of the elaborate staircase.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The foyer of 701 Louisiana St. features the elaborate woodwork of a large staircase. A colorful piece by glass sculpture Dale Chihuly is displayed on the floor at lower right.

The first floor of the house includes two living rooms and a dining room, each with its own fireplace. There are six fireplaces in the home, the couple said, but none of them is functional. The two living rooms and the dining room also feature original stained glass windows.

In the front living room is a prominent piece by local artist Hong Zhang, as well as modern lighting by local architect Mark Russell, who helped the couple with most of the house’s fixtures and renovated some of the bathrooms and part of the home’s third floor.

The back living room, which features a tall bookcase, can be glimpsed from the entrance of the home. The location of the bookcase used to be the original entrance to the kitchen, but the third owners of the home — in their kitchen renovation — created a different entrance and added the bookshelves.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A main hallway view in the Loomis home leads to a reading area and book shelves. Artwork is prominently displayed throughout the home. At left is an untitled piece by Jerry Lubensky.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Large passageways between connecting rooms in the Loomis home create long sight lines and views throughout the house. This view is from the dining room into a family and library room. In the background, above the fireplace, is a portrait by Stephen Johnson of the Loomises’ son, Dakota Loomis, when he was 9.

The kitchen was renovated around 1980. Some of the home’s original pantries and cabinets, however, were preserved in what is now the washroom and one corner of the kitchen. Hung on the wall of the kitchen is a large watercolor painting by Martin Cheng that many visitors are surprised is not a photo.

The second floor of the home includes three guest bedrooms where the Loomises invite visiting artists to stay. Burdett and Michel are friends with the Lawrence Arts Center’s exhibition director, Ben Ahlvers, and he connects them with visiting artists.

“You get to meet people and you either just say, ‘Hi, goodbye,’ or they really change your life. Ben changed our life. I mean it,” Michel said, adding that hosting the artists makes her and Burdett’s lives “so much better.”

Because of the pandemic, Burdett and Michel have not hosted any visiting artists since March. But prior to COVID-19, they had quite the guest list. In 2016, the Lawrence Arts Center hosted a show at the Cider Gallery called “701 Louisiana,” which featured artwork from artists who had stayed at Burdett’s and Michel’s house in the past.

In addition to housing artists, the Loomises also host concerts and political events. Michel and Burdett began having their visitors sign a wall hidden behind a door in one of the second floor guest bedrooms. The wall includes the names of visitors, such as artist Alessandro Gallo, textile artists Ann Hamilton and Cynthia Schira, and former Kansas governors Kathleen Sebelius and Mike Hayden.

Another interesting aspect of the second floor is a mirror in one of the original bathrooms. The long, narrow mirror belonged to the second family who lived in the home. They owned a funeral home, and the mirror was attached to the wagon that would move caskets.

“And so as people stood respectfully as the wagon went by with the deceased individual, they would see themselves in the mirror, because it was sort of like, ‘Well? We all come, we all go,'” Michel said, noting that she heard this fact from one of the living relations of the family, who sometimes visit the home.

The third floor is where Burdett and Michel have their bedroom and bathroom. It also features a large central room that used to be a ballroom, the couple believes. Russell, the architect, trimmed the walls with painted gutters with lights inside. Michel said she believed he was trying to copy certain aspects from the home’s porch.

For Michel, one of her favorite parts of the home is sitting in any of the rooms and being able to watch the light come in. In the morning, she said, “it’s just sort of hopeful and gets you going.”

Burdett said one of the most rewarding things he’s ever done is to live in the house and be its steward. He also said the home’s location in the Old West Lawrence neighborhood is “crucial.”

“It’s not an old house stuck out someplace, but it’s right here in maybe the best block of Lawrence,” he said.

Michel wasn’t originally set on the home when she and Burdett purchased it in 1985. But now, she said, it’s changed her.

“(Burdett) knew that our life was going to change because we bought this house, and he was right, but I didn’t understand that. And over time I have,” Michel said.

photo by: Mike Yoder

In a spare bedroom on second floor, a wall behind a door contains signatures and greetings from the guests of Michel and Burdett Loomis.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A second-floor bathroom has been kept in its original state and includes a former long, narrow mortuary mirror, center.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A large dormer area, on the third-floor of 701 Louisiana St. was renovated into a unique reading area with a creative design by local architect Mark Russell. In the foreground is a sculpture by Shellie Bender.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Elaborate columns are featured on the front porch at the Loomis home at 701 Louisiana.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The dining room in the Loomis home at 701 Louisiana St. The candlesticks on the table are from Van Go, and the painting above the fireplace is “11:59” by B.F. Jonas.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Loomis home features several fireplaces, pocket doors and wide wood trim around windows, doors and passages between rooms. The dining room, pictured at left, leads to a family room with a library at right.

photo by: Mike Yoder

A decorative turret on the exterior of the Loomis home at 701 La., creates a unique interior space that — on the second floor — is occupied by Burdett Loomis’s office. This panorama photo captures the rounded turret space at far right and, at center, artwork by Roger Shimomura. The landscapes of another local artist, Lisa Grossman, are to the left of the windows.

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