The Fall of the House of Epperson

Nathan Zoschke

Epperson House earned a spot on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ as one of the top five haunted houses in the United States
Epperson House earned a spot on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ as one of the top five haunted houses in the United States

Epperson House, a 24,180-square foot mansion, overlooks campus from its hilltop perch at 52nd and Cherry streets.

Built in the early ’20s for local businessman Uriah Epperson, who died shortly after the home’s completion, the house was used as a private residence for fewer than 20 years.

In 1942, Epperson House was donated to the University of Kansas City, and has since served as both student housing and office space.

Today, Epperson sits vacant. The Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design relocated to Katz Hall after 22 years in Epperson last fall.

Faded elegance greets visitors to Epperson, an intriguing combination of Tudor and gothic architectural styles.

The massive stone retaining wall, opulent woodwork, leaded glass windows and marble floors contrast starkly with evidence of wear from years of rough use.

Desks, models and other clutter from the architectural program remain.

Epperson House isn’t the only mansion on campus.

The Walter Dickey residence, now Scofield Hall, houses the Foreign Language Department and offices for the College of Arts and Sciences.

The original Bloch School building, the former Oakland mansion, was revamped and expanded with a new wing when it was acquired by the university in 1988.

Scofield’s interior has been partitioned and painted over with little regard for historic preservation, and the new addition to Bloch dwarfs the original building by comparison.

However, Epperson has remained far more intact than either, perhaps too intact for its own good.

The building’s floor plan employs a series of sunken rooms, none of which contains ramps or other handicap accessibility features required of public buildings under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Vice Chancellor of Facilities Robert Simmons said more than $1 million is needed to bring the building into compliance with ADA.

Simmons said although Epperson was grandfathered under certain requirements while AUP+D occupied the building, extensive renovations must occur if it is to be reoccupied.

Beyond accessibility features and extensive cosmetic repairs, a massive overhaul of the building’s electrical system is also needed.

Original wiring and push-button light switches remain in the foyer and other areas. They must be rewired to bring Epperson into compliance with city code in order to pass inspection.

Periodic flooding and water damage due to leaks in the roof have also been problematic. A ceiling section has fallen onto the steps of the organ loft, which overlooks the assembly room.

A fire that occurred six years ago, when central air conditioning was installed, showed how tempermental historic buildings can be.

A piece of insulation in the attic caught on fire when a worker was soldering a pipe leading to the air conditioning unit.

The sprinkler system flooded the building, including the pool located on one of the basement subfloors that has since been sealed off.

“The sprinkler system did its job,” Simmons said. “The wood in this building is 80 years old and it will burn like timbers.”

The flooded basement was siphoned out, and the fire damage repaired.

Currently, the university has no plans to reuse the building, which has been mothballed as the university looks for an interested private developer with the deep pockets to fund the costly restoration.

According to Simmons, between $8 and $10 million is needed to fully renovate Epperson. That would also include fixing numerous aesthetic incongruities with the mansion’s original character.

Linoleum tiles cover the basement and second floor rooms. Some walls contain both original leaded-glass windows and single-pane replacements, creating a mismatch.

“The problem is that the university has not had enough money to maintain the historic character,” Simmons said.

Simmons said there has not been significant interest in Epperson from outside parties with the resources to make the necessary repairs, but emphasized that demolition has never been on the table.

“We’d love to talk to someone who has plans as long as they have the resources,” Simmons said.

Until that happens, the building will continue to undergo regular maintenance to ensure the structure remains intact.

“We try to do our best to maintain it,” Simmons said as he locked the doors to the shuttered house.

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