Wichitans have a rare opportunity to see inside one of the city’s earliest homes with a troubled past during the 44th annual historic Midtown neighborhood homes Oct. 14 and 15.
The Sternberg Mansion at 1065 N. Waco – built in 1886 and often described as having a gingerbread house look because of its facade – has been destined for demolition more than once. It has served as a single-family home, an apartment building, a care home and a combination business and residence. In recent years while it has mainly stood empty, it has been looted and vandalized, acts that still continue, said current owner Brad Dody. Recently someone tried to set fire to the house, he said.
A 1969 Wichita Beacon headline described the house as decaying. The article went on to say: "At this time, the house has very little future left." It was renovated extensively in the 1970s by David and Sally Dewey but fell into neglect again. Dody bought the house in February 2016, after a bank had foreclosed on previous owner Ken Elliott, who had attempted a crowd-funding effort to renovate the house.
"It's got a lot of history. It's an amazing house," said Dody, who owns a construction company that does several contracted utility projects for the city of Wichita. At times, however, he wonders what he's gotten himself into with this renovation project, he said.
The Sternberg Mansion is one of four homes on the tour organized by the Midtown Historic Citizens Association to raise money for neighborhood projects and a college scholarship for a Midtown neighborhood resident. Docents dressed in period costumes will provide historical tidbits about each of the four homes during the tour.
Three homes built by William H. Sternberg, a prolific builder during Wichita's early economic boom, are on the tour and are examples of late Victorian/Queen Anne styles. The three homes are all on North Waco Avenue. A fourth home on nearby Lewellen Street is an example of a 1920s bungalow.
Sternberg built several commercial buildings and residences in Wichita, including the Sedgwick County Courthouse, 504 N. Main, and the Pratt-Campbell Mansion, an 1887 Victorian house on North Emporia that was on last year's Midtown homes tour.
The home Sternberg built in 1886 at 1065 N. Waco for himself at a cost of $25,000 was meant to be "a model residence to show prospective clients what he could do," according to the home's National Register of Historic Places nomination. Sternberg-built homes were well-known for their millwork, and his own home reflected that.
What tour-goers will see at the Sternberg Mansion – listed on tax appraisal records as having more than 5,200 square feet of living space – is pretty much a shell of what it once was. Only the first two floors of the home's three floors will be open during the tour.
Many of its original features and fixtures are gone, like the staircase newel, the boy-riding-a-dolphin wooden inset on a fireplace, prairie-style stained glass windows that overlooked the landing of the u-shaped staircase and more.
Dody has done considerable work to upgrade the home's facade, repairing the sinking front porch and spraying more than 130 gallons of a special primer, he said. Earlier this year he received a $42,000 grant from the Kansas Historical Society to replace the roof and paint the home, he said.
The other three homes on the tour:
▪ 1230 N. Waco. Known as the Chapman-Noble House, this 1888 home is the most well-preserved of the three Sternberg-built homes on the upcoming tour. Tim and JoAnn Pitzer bought the residence in February and remodeled the first-floor kitchen and second floor bedrooms to launch a bed and breakfast business. Among the home's original features are the stained glass windows found on the landing of the original staircase and in the third-floor turret room, which the couple is renovating into a studio apartment for themselves. A front room parlor is the perfect place for an 1867 Steinway piano the couple acquired this year. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.
▪ 1235 N. Waco. The home has been a fixer-upper project for owner Carl Smith who has spent "crazy money and crazy time" for the past three years, he said, renovating this 1890 four-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot home to put it on the market. Smith, a former fashion designer from California, has a self-professed love of old homes and has owned and renovated several over the years. He also owns another historic Midtown property, the Wey Mansion at 1751 N. Park Place. Among the more outstanding, original features of the 1235 N. Waco home are a tin ceiling in a front parlor, two painted slate fireplaces and ornate brass fixtures, including the hinges and doorplates, Smith noted. His house and the house next door at 1231 with a similar floor plan were built for business executives that were part of Wichita's booming economy, Smith discovered in doing research, but both left during Wichita's economic downturn in the 1890s.
▪ 1115 N. Lewellen St. Since moving in six years ago, Pat and Lacey Struska have made some cosmetic changes to this 1920s house. They have repainted and removed wallpaper and replaced carpeting and partially dismantled pine flooring with oak flooring. A second-floor loft area and a walled-in front porch are among the additions that have been made to the home, the Struskas said.
44th annual historic Midtown homes tour
What: An annual home tour sponsored by the Historic Midtown Citizens Association to benefit neighborhood projects and a scholarship to Wichita State for a Midtown resident
Where: 1065 N. Waco (Sternberg Mansion), 1230 N. Waco (Chapman-Noble House), 1235 N. Waco and 1115 N. Lewellen
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15
Tickets: $13 (children age 12 and under admitted free with an adult) available at St. Paul's Lutheran Church south entrance, 925 N. Waco, during tour hours
More information: midtownwichita.org or 316-882-1081