(originally published 2/7/19)
Kansas City is home to a number of beautiful homes. And by beautiful, I mean jaw-droppingly stunning. Out-of-town visitors are without exception surprised to find the large number of massive, imposing and architecturally breathtaking houses in town, many of which are, of course, in the oldest parts of the Country Club District – Mission Hills and Sunset Hills most particularly. But of all those homes, Corrigan House stands apart. You know the house even if you don’t know the name. Corrigan House has stood at the corner of 55th and Ward Parkway since 1913, one of the first homes to be built in the area. And not only is the house stunning, it is replete with history on a number of fronts.
First, the origin story. The home was built for Bernard Corrigan, who had a dubious local reputation, earned largely in the 1880s. Corrigan and his three brothers came to Kansas City in the 1850s, ultimately making their fortunes owning and operating the majority of the city’s largest streetcar system when it was still carriages on tracks pulled by horses. Bernard Corrigan was also at one time Kansas City Police Commissioner. The Corrigans allegedly operated the city’s pre–Pendergast era political machine. Kansas City Star publisher William Rockhill Nelson spent more than thirty years using his paper’s editorial columns to call out the unethical practices of the Corrigans and lobbying for improvements to the transit system. In 1912, during his waning years, Bernard Corrigan commissioned the house at Fifty-fifth and Ward Parkway before the Nichols Company had expanded the Sunset Hill development to that part of the district. Corrigan died just two months before the massive house was completed. To learn more about the Corrigans, visit the Kansas City Public Library’s history site, below.
Second, the architecture. The popularity of the house endures not because of Corrigan, who time has nearly forgotten, but because it is among the best work of Kansas City’s most famous architect of the era, Louis Curtiss. Curtiss has often been referred to as the “Frank Lloyd Wright of Kansas City,” a claim that is reflected in the design of Corrigan House. It is considered an excellent example of the Prairie style, with its low-pitched roof and horizontal banks of windows with strong vertical details. In truth, it is really an amalgam of Prairie and Art Nouveau styles, the latter being most evident in the structural details inside and out. It was among the first houses in Kansas City to make use of reinforced concrete over a steel frame, with its outer walls encased in limestone from Carthage, Missouri. Its most dramatic exterior feature is the nearly two-story Art Nouveau stained glass window next to the main entrance, but the stained-glass motif is repeated in other exterior windows, as well as on interior features. Among its many other details is the massive clock built into the staircase well, allegedly hand painted by Curtiss himself. Corrigan House is among the handful of Country Club District properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To learn more about the Corrigan house’s architecture, see the NRHP application pdf at the link below.
Then there’s the legacy of the house itself. As I said earlier, Corrigan died just months before the house was completed. His widow sold it the following year, and it was sold again three years later to Joseph Heim, who owned the largest brewery in Kansas City. Heim sold the house in 1923 after his wife died. During the home’s first ten years, it had four different owners.
Robert Sutherland, founder of Sutherland Lumber, bought the home from Heim, and lived there until his death in 1941. His wife was still residing in the home when it was placed on the National Historic Register in the late 1970s. A few years later, the home was acquired by the Honorable H. Michael Coburn of the 16th Judicial Circuit, one of this city’s most well respected judges. Sadly, Judge Coburn died in 1994 when he fell into an abandoned elevator shaft in a building that was the focus of a court case. The house was sold a few years later to Keith Tucker, a man who apparently was the complete moral opposite of Judge Coburn.
Former Kansas City Star reporter Jim Fitzpatrick ran an excellent piece on his blog that will catch you up on that part of the story. Check it out at the link below.
In the end, however, this is a story about a stunningly beautiful residence, built in a time when homebuilding craftsmanship was at its zenith. So, if you do nothing else, check out the Corrigan House to get some seldom-seen views of the exterior and the interior. It’s a house more than worthy of its reputation.
(Note: The KCBacktories Photo Gallery temporarily remains within its prior Facebook Page)
(Photo: Looking northwest, a view of the house’s front entrance, tucked into the corner of its L-shaped footprint. Courtesy the National Parks Service NRHP application)