Partying At This Midtown Kansas City Frank Lloyd Wright Home Is Like Being In 'Mad Men'

Jun 8, 2017

Kansas Citians have a rare opportunity to spend some time inside a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on Saturday.

That's when the Sondern-Adler home opens to the public for an afternoon during the Roanoke Neighborhood Spring Home & Garden Tour.

Jim Blair has lived in the "Usonian-style" home for twenty years – Wright used the term Usonia to describe his vision for modern American architecture.

“Of course, I love living here,” says Blair, who once served on the board of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Chicago. “I certainly want to advocate for Frank Lloyd Wright and the preservation of his buildings. If people come here and enjoy the space, which they usually do, that’s a positive thing.”

Seven historic homes in Roanoke are included in Saturday's event, a benefit for the Roanoke Park Conservancy. Having the Sondern-Adler home on the tour is a local way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Wright's birth.

It’s not unusual for Blair to entertain large groups and architects are frequent guests. But the home he shares with Robert Burns is not often open to the general public.

Lisa McElwee, chair of this year's tour, says she was thrilled to have the Sondern-Adler on the tour.

“For Jim, as much as he does open his house up, there’s still so many Kansas Citians and beyond who have not seen it,” McElwee says.
 

Large windows surround the main living room. Red tidewater cypress covers the ceiling and appears throughout the home.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

“It’s totally just wonderful when people first walk in here,” says Blair. “People are always just in awe. There are all the little details he (Wright) has done. Yeah, I take it for granted because it’s always just been like that.”

Living in a Wright home has its quirks. Maintenance can be costly, but Blair says the effort is worthwhile because the authenticity of the property is important to him.

“We keep everything pretty much original,” he says. “We don’t even have cable TV here – 1962 is pretty much what it’s like living here.”

McElwee likens the experience to walking onto the set of "Mad Men."

“It’s especially magical at night,” she says. “These guys are amazing hosts. I don’t know how they do it. Anytime you are here, it’s like you’re transported somewhere else. He’s so good at layering this whole experience with music and cocktails,” she says of Blair.

Wright designed this dining terrace when Arnold Adler commissioned him to expand the original home in 1948.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

A few years back, Blair and Burns hosted an impromptu winter party when an unexpected snowstorm blanketed the city. The pair invited everyone in the neighborhood.

“Everything was canceled,” Blair remembers. "Nobody wanted to leave because they had to get out into that snow again and it was like a blizzard out there. We didn’t have much heat, but I was just making these vats of Manhattans.”

“Everyone came," Burns adds. "In the carport there were like 60-70 different pairs of shoes,” he says with a laugh. “Even a sled and a pair of skis. We are just hoping we have another storm like that just to reenact it.”

A large patio area expands living space during summer months.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

The footprint of the house includes Wright designs for two different owners. Wright designed the original 900-foot home for Clarence Sondern in 1939. It features lush tidewater cypress and clerestory windows that allow light into the house.

Thomas Hart Benton lived next door. While Wright was building the Sonderns' home, he reportedly offered to tear down the "rat trap" stable next door where Benton worked and build the artist a proper studio. The late Creekmore Fath, an attorney from Austin, Texas, who collected and compiled a book of Benton lithographs said Benton declined the offer.

According to Fath, Benton said, “I told him, no sir, under no circumstances do I want to live in a Wright-designed house. I can't take the chance of having my roof leak all over my work.”

Nine years later, Wright was commissioned to expand the original dwelling for Kansas City clothing retailer Arnold Adler. The additional 1,900 square feet included an expanded deck, a step-up dining room and large living room.

Wright connected indoor space with the outdoors in creative ways. A tranquil koi pond sits just steps outside the living room.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

The Roanoke Park Spring Home and Garden Tour runs from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., on Saturday June 10, 2017. Tickets are $25. A limited number of $50 tickets are available to a courtyard, garden-style party from 5 -7 p.m. at the Thomas Hart Benton Home, followed by a more formal party from 7-9 p.m. at the Sondern-Adler Home.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.