Monday, March 22, 2010

Brick by Brick - Building a House and a Home

The Weis; Frank, 90 next month, and Audrey, 85 , in front of the home they built themselves. Below in the sunken living room... a design ahead of its time.

In 1946 the heavy, soot laden black smoke used to routinely float up over the bluff at Gladstone and Van Brunt making the land there hardly desirable for home building. But the byproduct of steam locomotives in the East Bottoms didn’t interfere with the building plans of Frank and Audrey Weis who bought a lot on the southwest corner of that intersection. They designed and built the English style home themselves from the ground up laboring evenings and weekends for several years.

It all started 65 years ago when Frank met Audrey. They both worked at the Lake City Ammunition plant and ran into each other when Frank accompanied a fellow worker to the “big boss’” office where Audrey was a secretary. Frank thought she had the most beautiful hair and Audrey liked it that he always wore bright sweaters. Dating ensued and they were married May 19th, 1944.

Service in the Navy followed for Frank who was a commissioned officer on LCTL 62 which carried diesel engine spare parts to posts in the South Pacific during World War II. Following the war Frank went to work for the Kansas City Water Department and the couple settled into life in an apartment at 29th and Topping. But Frank had already been hard at work on the plans for their house for several years and when the lot purchase was complete the construction began.

The house was to have several innovative features for the time including radiant heat, a sunken living room and a skylight. Work began with the digging of the 4-foot deep space for the foundation slab. Concrete would be delivered on Saturdays by a contractor but only if he had a commercial job that day. So Frank and Audrey would have to wait, sometimes all day, for the truck to show up. Then the pouring would begin; unless it had rained in which case Frank had to wheelbarrow the mix from truck to foundation.

After the first slab was complete it was time to lay the pipe for the heating system. Frank, who has a Mechanical Engineering Degree from the University of Missouri, designed and fabricated the system himself. It involves pipes embedded in the concrete floor of the home through which heated water is circulated. This water in turn warms the surrounding floor and the heat “radiates” up through the house. After the pipe was laid, joined and leak tested another layer of concrete was poured over the top. Frank has only had to replace the pump once since the system was built. A boiler provides the heat for the water.

Often during construction the couple worked long into the night with Frank doing the work and Audrey holding a flashlight and keeping track of Ted, their first born son. Two other children followed, Gary and Cathy. All of the kids went to Gladstone, where Audrey volunteered in the cafeteria, and Northeast Junior and Senior Highschools. Since there was no forced air system in the house, the kids grew up without air conditioning which, Audrey said, was not without complaint! The couple still does without when it comes to cooling, Frank saying he frequently drives to work with the windows in the car rolled down.

Following completion of the foundation the framing began. Because the house was on the corner, code required that it have two entrances thus the doors on Gladstone and on Van Brunt. A more restrictive code at the time also meant that they had to have professional plumbers and electricians do the plumbing and wiring, but once the city inspected the basic work Frank was able to do what he really wanted.

With framing complete the brick work began. Frank had worked on a brick addition to a Water Department pumping facility and learned the ins and outs of a good brick wall. Frank tried to lay at least 100 bricks in a day and estimates that it took 3,300 total to finish the job.

Since the couple was married and on a budget, they frequently had to delay work on the house waiting for sales on materials. They moved into the home before it was completed to save money. Audrey recalled that they could carry on conversations between the first and second stories through the unfinished walls.

Frank got a good deal on redwood paneling and that is featured throughout the interior of the house with no plaster, wallpaper or paint to be found anywhere. In the late 50’s the house was pretty much finished although Audrey says it really wasn’t complete until the 70’s.

Married for 64 years, the couple attributes their longevity to an active lifestyle that includes run-walking from their house to Gooseneck along Cliff Drive three days a week. They also enjoy ballroom dancing three or four times a month and just recently took a trip to Chicago and San Francisco.

Frank continues to work full time at Smith and Loveless in Lenexa in research and development. He has more than 55 patents to his name and has been with the company for 55 years.

So, how much did the house finally cost? Frank says, “Well, we saved all the receipts for the materials over the years but then just through them away without adding up the cost!”

The next time you drive by the little English style house at Gladstone and Van Brunt think about Frank and Audrey and two lifetimes of work and love that built both a house and a home.

Looking north toward Gladstone Boulevard this shows Audrey and son Ted on the concrete slab with the beginnings of the radiant heat piping. Sunken living room is to the rear. Notice the total absence of trees along the bluff in the background. Frank and the kids used to fly kites off the bluff in the summer.

Above and below installing the radiant heat system.... the first house west of theirs, in the background, was also built by an individual.

Looking east toward Van Brunt this shows the installation of the radiant heating system. Water is forced through the pipes to heat the concrete slab which in turn heats the whole house.

Looking north, northwest shows the framing in progress. Frank had some help raising the trusses from friends and relatives. Brickwork eventually covered the bottom half of the house.

Above Van Brunt looking south on a snowy day.... notice all the Elm trees which began disappearing in the sixties when dutch elm disease hit the region.
The finished home.... close to 4,000 bricks and a lot of hard work.


  1. So cool! I wonder how he prevented the pipes from rusting away encased in concrete.

  2. I asked about that... his answer was "no air, no rust." He has to replace the pump a few years ago and when he drained the system not one speck of rust....

  3. 你这样做?

  4. great story and terrific pics. thanks very much.

    Mo Rage

  5. Audrey is a Saint! Living in an incomplete house with three kids. She deserves a medal.

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  7. I really liked the house and help raise all that incredible that designed the entire heating system you just congratulate you, this amazing home, and finally I love the desk. the black and white photos are very beautiful!

  8. These are my Grandparents and they are amazing people. The greatest people I have ever known. What an example they set for their family. We are so proud!

    Brandon, Pam, John and Audrey (named after her great grandma Audrey)