"The Boley Building was a major work for its time, constructed in a 'curtain wall design' - an exterior wall of glass that hangs on the building rather than being a supportive part of the structure," says architectural historian Keith Eggener, professor of American art and architecture and director of graduate studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Eggener gives a lecture on the work of Louis Curtiss at 2 p.m. Sunday, December 2, at the Kansas City Central Library, 14 West 10th Street.
Eggener thinks the building at 3240 Main could be a Curtiss design: "It sure looks like it. If not, it's someone channeling Louis Curtiss."
According to the Kansas City Public Library's Missouri Valley Room website, the architect's first will mandated that all of his personal papers be burned upon his death. (No one knows if his wish was carried out; reportedly, the personal papers were never found.) Curtiss was buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Washington Cemetery.
Best known in Kansas City for his designs of the Boley Building, the Folly Theater, the 1905 mansion known as "Mineral Hall" ("a flamboyant Art Nouveau creation," Eggener says - it's now part of the Kansas City Art Institute), and the long-razed Baltimore Hotel, Curtiss never married but was reportedly a ladies' man in his day. In 1918, he was sued for "convincing another man's wife to leave him to pursue an artistic career." There were also rumors that there was a secret passage from his apartment to the Empress Theatre, a burlesque operation, to the south of his building on McGee.
"Curtiss designed buildings around the United States," Eggener says. "One of the greatest was the train station in Joplin, Missouri. It's still standing but a magnificent wreck. He designed structures in West Virginia, Illinois, Texas. But the greatest concentration of his work is in and around Kansas City."
That brings us back to 3240 Main. The current owner of the building is Richard Kappa, of the A-B-C Business Records Center, who has owned the building twice. (He bought the building back from a developer in 2010.) Kappa has done a fair amount of research on the building without finding much but a reference to an architect named Sullivan. "He was supposed to have been a protege of Louis Curtiss," Kappa says. "There's not a lot of historical documentation on the building."
Eggener has never heard of Sullivan and questions the validity of the story. "Louis Curtiss was known for preferring to work alone," he says. "He had draftsmen working for him, but he never took on student architects or apprentices."
Kappa uses the three floors of 3240 Main as a storage facility, which is adjacent to his corporate storage facility. But he's interested in finding an architect to help him turn the top floor into two loft apartments, including one for Kappa to use himself.