The tale of Kansas City's Tudor Revival houses begins and ends with a local builder's love for them.
Napoleon William Dible felt like he was handing the moon on a silver platter to homeowners with the easy-to-build, easy-to-sell style. He constructed his homes with characteristics of Tudor mansions he'd admired: towering chimneys, steep gabled roofs and decorative half timbering. Most of these were tiny by today's standards, having about 1,500 square feet.
"But he called them mini-mansions," says his grandson, William Hickok, a retired builder who worked for Dible. "It's his signature house."
The Tudor was also the style nationally in the 1920s, and because it was among the first styles to have detached garages, it is often considered the "automobile house". Shortly after World War I, one Model T rolled off the production line every 20 seconds. Porches moved from the front of the house to the side and were screened to "shield" residents from car pollution.
Hollywood helped bolster the Tudor's image. The storybook style was shown on the silver screen, notably in Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". But at the same time, the modernist movement was gaining momentum, rejecting historical references and ornamentation. Architectural critics decried the Tudor: "Houses or Stage Scenery?" was one essay's headline. Few were built after 1940.
The end of the Tudor came later for Kansas City and Dible, who was still building them in 1953, Hickok says.
Dible was often asked: "Aren't the English cottage days over?" So he tested the waters that year by building three ranch houses in a new subdivision of Tudors near 78th Street and Holmes. The ranches sold before they were finished.
"Well, boys," Hickok recalls Dible saying in his baritone voice, "we're changing".
Stacy Downs / The Star.
Arches are in nearly every room on the main floor of Royce Baker's 1933 Tudor in Kansas City.
Two identical doorways curve up into dramatic peaks and flank the interior wall of her living room.
One leads to the dining room, the other to the staircase. Another arched doorway frames the entryway, which is big enough to tuck a small table and lamp inside. Yet another connects the dining room to the kitchen.
"They make the house look so charming and cozy," Baker says. "They add to the storybook look of the style on the inside."
Arches were popular when Tudor monarchs ruled 1500s England.
Architectural dictionaries define a Tudor arch as a pointed shape whose sides start with a curve about 60 degrees and continue to the apex in a straight line. However, a variety of arch shapes can be found inside Tudor Revival houses, says Dave Hiers, owner of Tudor Artisans, a company in Gerogia that handcrafts and sells period items.
"All types of arches, especially in doorways, really help define the Tudor style," he says.
The front door of Baker's house is a simply rounded arch. She also has arched decorative niches that are pointier - similar to the doorway - in the stairway, breakfast nook and bathroom. Her favorite arched niche is above the 7-foot-wide plaster fireplace and includes an electrical outlet that's original to the house for a lamp or clock.
"The details seem to be ahead of their time," she says. "Yet I know they're centuries old."
Stacy Downs / The Star.
Erma Embry grew up adoring Tudor Revival homes. To her, they looked like Hansel and Gretel houses with their triangular lines, arched doors and narrow diamond-pane windows. She snatched up a brick one a decade ago in Westheight Manor, a high-style neighborhood near 20th Street and Washington Boulevard in Kansas City, Kan.
"I finally got my gingerbread house," she says.
Embry loves the 1919 brick house's interior, which features built-in drawers and two sunrooms. But she, like many revival-style homeowners, did not know how Tudors made their way to America.
The style is named for the Tudor monarchs of England. Fortified castles were no longer needed around 1520, when the population of the country was rising because of improved standards of living.
At that time, Henry VIII rewarded court favorites with land in the country. They were rich enough to pay skilled craftspeople to build decorative wall studs in diamond, herringbone and star patterns. The working class emulated the timbering in a scaled-down form and also made use of local stone for their cottages.
The style faded in the 1700s when cheaper materials and labor became available, but it came back in favor in the 1860s in England. The humbler abodes, not the sprawling castlelike manors, were emulated as people sought houses that blended with the landscape. Period fiction writers wrote about their appeal, helping to spread the style.
The Tudor made its way to America in the 1890s but didn't take off until after World War I. It was the popularity of the automobile that jumpstarted the Tudor boom in the 1920s. Cars allowed people who worked in the urban core to live farther away, sparking a home-building boom. At the same time, people of Anglo-Saxon descent, wishing to distance themselves from a growing immigrant population in the city, sought to showcase their own heritage in their homes.
Throughout Kansas City and across the country, builders began naming subdivisions and shopping centers after British places to capitalize on the sentiment. "There was this whole sense of creating English villages," says William Worley, a historian and adjunct professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "The Tudor style fit that better than any other style."
Here are a few prominent examples of Tudors built in Kansas City:
Crestwood. Jesse Clyde Nichols in 1919 developed the neighborhood, which showcases many of the area's earliest Tudors. They have highly decorative chimneys and ornamented gables. Oak trees, a park and a stone archway entrance marker distinguish the area near UMKC.
Westminster Court. An unusual English garden concept, nicknamed "The Court", is nestled within the Westheight Manor neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas. Nine Tudor homes, including five houses and two duplexes with wood and stucco, share a U-shaped front yard near North 24th Street and Nebraska Avenue. A stone archway serves as an entry to The Court, which was built in 1924.
Horn-Vincent-Russell Estate. Edward Tanner, Nichols' celebrated Country Club Plaza architect, designed the Mission Hills mansion for oilman John E. Horn. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, this Tudor home has heavy timbers, brick, stucco and stone, and a slate roof. The 1931 residence includes a courtyard fountain, flagstone walkways and formal landscaping.
The tony trappings so attracted H. O. Peet (of Colgate-Palmolive-Peet) that he carved a soap block model of it and planned to build his own. However, he eventually bought the home.
"One just has to look around to see Kansas City has one of the best and the most numerous collections of Tudors anywhere in America," says Mike Tecton, a house-plan book publisher in Virginia and a Tudor Revival expert.
Napoleoan William Dible built most of the Tudors in the Kansas City area. He built a few basic floor plans of mostly small and moderate-sized houses. Even though they were replicated hundreds of times, a homeowner thought his or her dwelling was unique in the neighborhood.
From house to house, Dible would alternate kitchens left and right, locate front doors in different spots and add extra roof peaks.
Nationally, the Tudor style is considered masculine and so associated with financial achievement and conservative taste that it was dubbed the "Stockbroker Tudor".
"The plaster, stone and heavy timbers were attractive to lordly and baronial personalities, giving them fake roots", says Bo Sullivan, a historian and buyer for Rejuvenation, a period lighting company in Portland, Oregon.
But Dible, Worley says, was a smart businessman and gave Kansas City Tudors feminine appeal. As home appliances were becoming all the rage, he pored over copies of The Ladies' Home Journal and talked to women about what they wanted. The result: built-in ironing boards, laundry chutes and ice-cream-colored tiles for bathrooms and the entryway. On the exterior, Tudors received extra touches such as foundation landscaping and curving front walkways to give them curb appeal.
"Dible understood something that Nichols didn't," says Worley, author of J. C. Nichols and the Shaping of Kansas City. "It was the man who signed the contract, but it was the woman who made the final desision."
Although most Kansas City Tudors were constructed inexpensively, they have thrived and few have been demolished. The exteriors are relatively unchanged except many screened porches are now all-glass sunrooms. Often, tiny breakfast nooks got the heave-ho to make way for bigger and better kitchens.
"Tudors are relatively well built here," Worley says. "They've held up well over the years."
To reach Stacy Downs, home reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4780 or send e-mail to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
If you're interested in creating the essence of a 1930s interior or want period-style furnishing for your own Tudor, here's what to consider:
Door knobs, hinges and knockers feature a pointy Gothic style. They look hand-forged, large, sturdy and dark, like parts of a medieval abode. Tudor Artisans, Georgia, sells Tudor hardware, www.tudorartisans.com, (404) 455-0195.
Colors in Tudor Revival homes combine old English hues, such as deep maroon and dark green, with the palette of the 1920s: orchid, light blue, creamy yellow, pale green, pink and apricot.
Sherwin-William Streamlined Years Interior Color Preservation Palette, www.sherwin-williams.com.)
Bases are typically made of oil-rubbed bronze. They mimic the look of candle- or oil-burning lanterns. The period fixtures are found in entryways, dining rooms and as living room sconces.
Rejuvenation, Oregon, www.rejuvenation.com, 1-888-401-1900.
Art Deco-color tile was installed in patterns on bathroom floors and shower walls, and mosaic tiles were laid in entryways. International Materials of Design, 4691 Indian Creek Parkway, Overland Park, KS, sell period tiles, (913) 383-3383.
Wrought-iron accents are a historic nod to the 1500s. They're found in stair railings, fireplace accessories and furniture. Bob's Ornamental iron, 734 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Kan., customizes new pieces, www.bobsiron.com, (913) 236-4444.
Source: THE KANSAS CITY STAR.
Sunday, August 1, 2004, Section D, house & home; pp. D-1, D-5 & D-6.