Manhattan’s oldest home might relocate for redevelopment

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On the corner of Fourth and Laramie streets sits an old stone house. Dead, spindle-like vines hug its weathered walls, while two tall trees stand guard outside its front door. These vines and these trees are the only remaining companions to the house.

A chain-link fence boxes the house in, separating it from the dirt piles, concrete blocks, flashing orange barricades and bulldozers that surround it.

The house: a lonely prisoner on the land, which it has spent so many years presiding over. The prosecutor: Dial Realty. The defendants: the Board of Historic Resources. The judge: the City of Manhattan.

The stone house at 326 Laramie St. is the oldest standing house in Manhattan, which resides in the heart of the downtown redevelopment project. It faces potential relocation by Dial Realty to allow the corporation to make more room for its new shopping center. Being the oldest standing property in Manhattan, the house has been nominated for the State and National Register of Historic Places. However, if moved, the house’s potential to be granted state and national recognition would severely decrease. The trial for keeping the house in its original location or moving it for the sake of a new grocery store has been going on for quite some time.

On Oct. 1, the Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board potentially could reach a verdict during its meeting. But for now, the defendant and the prosecutor continue to fight for their cases, each citing conflicting information about the historical value of the house. The Facts Patricia O’Brien researched and compiled the history of the house in the April 2007 Manhattan/Riley County Preservation Alliance Newsletter. She found that the house, first known as the Strasser House, was built in 1875. The New England-style home was purchased by Phillipena Strasser and presumably was used as a boarding house as well as a home for the Strasser family.

Over the years, the house has had many different occupants including Henley H. Haymaker in 1936 and Charles R. “Dick” Dickens in 1988. Haymaker was a professor of plant pathology and was appointed to the board of the Kansas State Agricultural College Memorial Stadium Corporation in 1943. Haymaker Hall is named in his honor.

Dickens was the first commissioner of the Manhattan City League Baseball program and continued his service with the organization for more than 40 years. The C.R. Dickens press box in Anneberg Park is dedicated in his memory.

Dickens’ son, Robert, inherited the house after his father’s death. He and his wife have been the most recent residents until the house was purchased by Dial Realty in 2006.

The Controversy A memorandum of agreement, or MOA, between the City of Manhattan and the Kansas State Historic Preservation officer was signed in the spring of 2006. This agreement covers seven residential structures including the Strasser House. The MOA states that the city will not issue any permits to allow these properties to be demolished or removed. However, it also states that any party involved with the agreement – which includes the owners of the Strasser house, Dial Realty – is entitled to make amendments to the MOA if that party has the approval of the city and of the preservation officer.

The Problem Dial, the lawful owners of the Strasser property, want to amend the MOA in order to make room for the new Fourth Street shopping center. It is now up to the city and its advisers to make that final decision. The Board of Historic Resources, an adviser to the city, wants the house to stay.

“(The house) is the last remaining piece of that neighborhood that hasn’t been moved, so it’s very historic,” Michael Mecseri, board member, said. “It was agreed upon by the city and Dial Realty to maintain it, and we think they should be held to that agreement.”

But Rick Kiolbasa, Dial partner, said he thinks otherwise. “We’ll probably be moving it late this fall, once everything’s frozen,” he said. “We’re going to depend on the experts to make sure everything stays intact. We’re going through a process right now with the city and state, but we’re reasonably certain that the best course is to move the house.”

Kiolbasa also said the reorientation of the house – about a block from where it is now – would most likely have no affect on the house’s historical status.

“It’s not a historical house at the moment,” he said. “We’ve discussed that even after moving it, it would probably still be eligible for historical status.”

Linda Glasgow, president of the Manhattan/Riley County Preservation Alliance, said she disagrees.

“This is a historic house that is already covered by a memorandum of the city and the Kansas Historical Society,” she said. “I think that it’s important to maintain the house on the site to maximize its historic impact, and if the house were to be moved, that would be a very difficult and expensive process, and there’s no guarantee the house would be eligible (for the listing) anymore.”

Patrick Zollner, director of cultural resources divisions for the Kansas State Historical Society, said moved properties are not normally listed in the national register, because they are significantly tied to their sites. However, there are some exceptions to this, he said, when properties have been moved but listed for architectural reasons.

“In Kansas, we won’t typically do this,” he said. “There have been only a handful of properties, usually bridges, that have been listed with relocation.”

So could the Strasser House fall into these exceptions?

“The answer is typically no,” Zollner said. “Is it possible? Perhaps. But moving it certainly lessens the likelihood.”

Tom Roberts, the Historic Resources Board chair said in the board’s meeting Monday that he thinks the board has said, “Enough compromise.”

“The people who put together the original agreement ought to follow the original agreement,” Roberts said. “We can question the negotiations and other things and be entitled to our own personal opinions, but from a Historic Resources standpoint, I think it’s clear for the Strasser house, the impact on the neighborhood, and the long-term significance to the community, that it needs to stay.”

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