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Louis S. Curtiss

Born: July 1, 1865, Belleville, Ontario, Canada. Died: June 24, 1924, Kansas City, Missouri.

Leavenworth Veterans Administration ChapelLouis Singleton Curtiss was born July 1, 1865, to Don Carlos and Frances Elvira Curtis in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. Curtiss, who changed the spelling of his last name from Curtis, was the fourth child and second son in a family of six. Curtiss’ father worked as a dry goods merchant in Belleville, while his mother, of French descent, moved to Ontario from Norwalk, Ohio, after being widowed with a young daughter.

Curtiss’ parents had died by the time he was 19. He remained in Canada and reportedly attended the University of Toronto and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Curtiss moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1887. There he became a founding member of the Kansas City Architectural Sketch Club and began working as a draftsman in the Adriance Van Brunt architectural firm. Two years later he partnered with Frederick C. Gunn creating the Gunn and Curtiss firm. That same year Curtiss served as an assistant to the Kansas City superintendent of buildings where he designed the pioneering caisson footing for the Kansas City, Missouri, city hall at Fourth and Main streets.Gunn and Curtiss remained together for a decade designing courthouses, churches, hotels, and other public buildings. Their most notable buildings were the Virginia Hotel (1892) and the Progress Club (1893) in Kansas City, Missouri, the Gothic Revival-style Immanuel Church or the Veteran’s Administration Chapel (1893; National Register) in Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Tarrant County Courthouse (1893-1895) in Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1899 Gunn and Curtiss ended their partnership, and Curtiss established his own firm. He worked for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, which helped to expand his architectural territory. Curtiss began to create more unconventional and innovative architectural designs such as his studio apartment penthouse that mixed Oriental and Spanish Colonial Revival styles, or his transition from red brick and dressed stone to that of sleek glass and terra cotta. Modern architecture and American Southwest styles began to influence his designs. The Boley Building in Kansas City, Missouri, is an example of this pioneering spirit, with its use of reinforced concrete, steel, and expanses of glass windows.  His new designs gained popularity in Texas and Kansas City. Through his drafting of municipal buildings, primarily courthouses, his architectural influence spread to states including Virginia, Nebraska, Texas, and New Mexico. Extant examples of his architecture in Kansas include Wichita’s Union Station (1912), which is part of the East Douglas Avenue Historic District, and the Benjamin Schnierle house (1904) in Kansas City, Kansas.

In addition to Curtiss’ new construction, the Glick-Orr House in Atchison (National Register) and the Houston Whiteside House in Hutchinson (National Register) are two Kansas examples of Curtiss’ creative remodeling. The Glick-Orr House was originally built as a Victorian-era Gothic residence in 1873 for Kansas Governor George W. Glick. After Glick’s 1911 death, property owner James Orr hired Curtiss in 1913 to remodel the residence to reflect the Tudor Revival style.

The Houston Whiteside House, built 1880, was remodeled by Curtiss in 1915 to reflect the appearance of an English cottage. Part of Curtiss’ appeal was his affinity for traditional styles and simple lines that he adapted with emerging techniques. Curtiss began work in the Westheight Manor Subdivision (National Register) in Kansas City, Kansas, developed by realtor Jesse A. Hoel. The realtor’s home was Curtiss’ first design in the subdivision where his revival style bungalows and prairie-style homes characterize the architecture that has been associated with the historic district.

Curtiss died June 24, 1924, of natural causes at his drawing board in his Kansas City, Missouri, apartment

Entry: Curtiss, Louis S.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2013

Date Modified: September 2015

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