Kansas Mall To Replace Last House on the Block

Posted on: October 1st, 2007 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Strasser HouseIn Manhattan, Kan., the fight to save the last house in a neighborhood lost to a shopping center soon may lose its footing.

Built in 1874, the limestone Phillipena J. Strasser House is the last in a residential area that consisted of late 19th- to mid-20th-century limestone abodes.

Last year, Omaha-based developer Dial Realty purchased the property, adjacent to Manhattan's original downtown area, and began construction on a shopping center and senior living community. Dial has leveled everything except for the Strasser House. Recently, Dial announced plans to move the house down the block.

"The Strasser House is in poor repair," says Rick Kiolbasa, partner at Dial Realty, who notes that fire and termite damage have led to the house's deteriorated condition. Kiolbasa says Dial never planned to demolish the Strasser House. "We'd always wanted to save the house in some form, but we never knew exactly what the shopping center would look like and where it could fit in." Kiolbasa adds that Dial plans on rehabilitating the house, possibly for use as office space.

In the meantime, city officials have nominated the house for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and local preservation groups such as the Manhattan Historic Resources Board and the Manhattan-Riley County Historic Preservation Alliance are fighting to have the house restored and kept on the original site.

"We're absolutely opposed to moving the house," says Tom Roberts, chair of the Manhattan Kansas Historic Resources board, who says that moving the house may compromise its eligibility for the National Register. "We have made many concessions in the name of development in order to protect the Strasser House. We're trying to strike a balance, but we've already sacrificed on our end."

Preservationists are concerned about Dial's history of tearing down historically significant properties: In 2003 in Independence, Mo., Dial Realty purchased and razed historic homes in President Harry S. Truman's boyhood neighborhood. "We fear that this developer is not sensitive to historic properties; they certainly have not been so in this instance," Roberts says.

Construction on the downtown project began early last year. Kiolbasa estimates the project will be completed by fall 2008, but says there is no date set to move the Strasser House.

- Krista Walton, Preservation magazine

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