By Diane Euston
This past September, I set my sights on diligently working to garner much needed attention on Sauer Castle. I wrote an extensive piece about the history of the Italian Villa at 935 Shawnee Rd., completed in 1873 on my blog and in the Telegraph.
Included in this article was the three-decade long neglect by the current owner, New York City resident Carl Lopp. After my article was published, the property owner contacted my editor, Kathy Feist, and insisted that what I wrote contained false information. At the end of September, we were invited to tour the castle’s grounds.
Since publishing the original article, Sauer Castle has been in the headlines as I continue to raise awareness and seek out solutions to save it. Before we explore what has recently happened, it is important to retell the story of how this incredible piece of architecture has withered into the shell of its former glory.
Anton Philip Sauer’s Castle
Anton Philip Sauer, known as Anthony, was born in Germany in 1826. While living in Austria, he married and had five children. In the 1850s, Anthony moved his family to America where his wife passed away a short time later.
Early in his career, Anthony worked as a merchant dealing in wine, wool, cotton and coffee. Always looking to extend his business interests, Anthony first set his sights on Kansas City in the late 1850s; he opened a tannery on the levee and held interest in a few steamboats.
By 1868, Anthony and his children moved permanently to Kansas City where he bought extensive real estate. A year later, Anthony married Mary Messerschmidt and had four girls.
To accommodate his growing family, Sauer purchased 63 acres on the highest point in Wyandotte County with a sweeping view of Missouri and Kaw Rivers. He hired famed architect Asa Beebe Cross (1826-1894) whose work includes Vaile Mansion and Vaughan’s Diamond Building. Only a sprinkling of Cross’s incredible designs still survive.
The two and a half story home with a four-story tower was a sight to see for miles. As the house neared completion in August 1873, the Wyandotte Gazette reported, “It is in plain sight for a considerable distance.”
The front entrance had double, three-paneled doors of solid walnut. Two hand-carved sandstone lions were set to guard the impressive entrance. The first floor featured 14-foot ceilings with 12-foot high windows. Features included a beautiful staircase with hand-carved Rosewood spindles and wood floors made of alternative light and dark wood. The parlor featured Belgian lace curtains and a large fireplace with imported marble.
The Sauer home was one of the first in the entire area to have running water. A second-floor bathroom was equipped with an elaborate marble tub for bathing.
From the third floor, the staircase ascended to the tower with a lookout showcasing the spectacular view. The Wyandotte Gazette boasted that the view included “Wyandotte, Armstrong, and Kansas City, the two river’s valleys, and a very large scope of the country in Missouri and Kansas lie at the feet of the observer like a beautiful map or a splendid picture.”
The grounds were equally as impressive and included a greenhouse, a smokehouse, a stone chicken coop, a large two story wine cellar and 18 acres of vineyards. Here, Anthony and his wife raised their four girls. Unfortunately, following the death of his one-year-old daughter, Anthony Sauer passed away inside the home on August 16, 1879 at the age of 53.
Mary continued to live on the property after his death and sold off a chunk of the land for development. After her death, Anthony and Mary Sauer’s oldest daughter, Eva (1870-1955) stayed on the property with her husband and children.
In 1954, the house was sold for the first time. Five generations of Sauer descendants had lived in the castle.
Paul Berry, a single man who was especially fond of antiques, bought the home from the Sauer family and lived in it until his death in 1986. The next owners were set on restoring the home since many of the rooms and ceilings had fallen into disrepair. Slowly but surely, Bud Wyman along with Cliff and Cindy Jones brought back some much needed life into Sauer Castle; they loved giving tours and hosted seven weddings inside the structure.
They had hopes of converting the home into a bed and breakfast, but the neighborhood wasn’t fond of the idea. In 1988, the house was sold to its current owner, the great-great grandson of Anthony Sauer, Carl G. Lopp.
Since the property was sold to him, there has been little to no progress in restoring the historic property back to its original glory.
33 Years of Neglect
Over the years, increased damage to the structure could be seen from the street. In 1996, a caretaker was charged with $30,000 in theft of items, including the crystal chandeliers, that were taken from the historic home.
Wyandotte County slapped the house “unfit for habitation” in the 1990s as neighbors and history lovers lamented from a distance at the deterioration of Sauer Castle.
As violations continued to pile up, Lopp was also developing a reputation of playing the property tax game. He would continuously ignore his property taxes for three years- the maximum allowed before the property was sold on the courthouse steps. Days before the auction, he would cut a check for the minimum amount due. Then, the clock would start over.
Very few people have been allowed inside Sauer Castle under Lopp’s ownership, but he has opened the doors to family. In 1996, Lopp’s first cousin once removed, Victoria Hampton, came to Kansas City with her sisters. While on that visit, what Victoria saw had her deeply concerned.
“The house was in pretty bad shape then,” Victoria explained. “My mother- when she saw what Carl was doing to the castle- it just broke her heart. There are layers upon layers of memories there, and it’s all in serious danger.”
On that visit 25 years ago, they didn’t go past the first floor. They walked the grounds, and Victoria noted that the smokehouse and chicken coop had collapsed. The wine cellar was overgrown and falling down.
In 1999, a Lawrence developer wanted to restore the mansion, open a winery and build bungalows for overnight guests. The developer worked with the city on a plan that wouldn’t include the absentee owner. A meeting with neighbors and the mayor was called, and Lopp insisted, yet again, that he was going to restore the property.
When the developer’s plan fell through, Lopp was told he had to make major improvements to the property in order to avoid fines. Lopp needed a plan so he could keep the castle, so he hired A.L. Huber General Contractor; they began work in January 2000.
After erecting a chain-link fence, A.L. Huber turned its attention to the front porch on the west side of the house. “The substructure was almost completely deteriorated and needed replacement,” then CEO August L. Huber, III explained.
Huber’s carpenters worked on the porch until Lopp stopped making payments. Huber had to sue for the remainder of the money due, so the work that was started 20 years ago was never completed. A.L. Huber was awarded a judgement for the amount due in 2004. “After thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, we finally got our money,” Huber recalled.
Over the next few decades, the state of Sauer Castle continued to deteriorate. In 2018, a microburst did extensive damage to the west side of the four-story tower. Photos indicate that someone placed a makeshift wooden support below a window and used cement to partially bandage the damage. Gutters sit on the side of the house in a pile next to original woodwork and bricks that have fallen off the structure. I saw them on my visit in September as I crooked my neck up to take a look at the deteriorating tower.
When asked in September why repairs hadn’t been made on damage that was over two years old, the owner said he had applied for grants and had been denied. The work on the west side porch that had been partially completed by A.L. Huber was unrecognizable.
Regardless, Lopp insisted even then that the castle was structurally sound.
An Update – The Last Six Months of Sauer Castle
Due to being delinquent on three years of taxes, Sauer Castle was supposed to be part of the tax auction Dec. 10; the original sale had been delayed due to the pandemic.
Lopp filed an appeal, and days before it was set to be sold, it was removed from the listing. “Judge Burns ordered that he can go on one more payment plan by paying half of the taxes up front,” Wendy M. Green, Assistant Council for Wyandotte County explained.
In the meantime, special assessments piled up on Sauer Castle and the Unified Government was especially concerned about the broken windows. Lopp had been warned he needed to secure the property, but the calls went unanswered.
On Dec. 10, a judge signed an administrative search warrant “for the purpose of boarding and securing the premises.” Four days later, city officials along with a dozen police cars showed up at Sauer Castle. There, Carl Lopp, armed with a gun in his pocket, lamented that the city had no right to be on the property. He told reporters it was “outrageous” and that they were destroying the original woodwork on a national historic landmark.
Even then, the Unified Government was concerned that rain and snow would damage the structure. For the boarding up of the property, Lopp was assessed $4,520. Lopp told the Kansas City Star that he “was getting ready to put all the Christmas ornaments on the castle.”
Months went by with no structural repairs being made on the property, and the Unified Government became even more concerned about the structural integrity of the tower. On April 19, the city went in with a warrant to assess the damage. They used a drone to get a closer look, and with the help of a structural engineer, drew up a report as to what work needed to be completed. The main concern was stabilizing the tower; they were concerned that some of the bricks may give way.
Lopp said he had hired his own engineers and it was “structurally sound.” He told KCTV-5 that work that needed to be done was mostly cosmetic and it was nonsense it was falling apart.
Founder of the Sauer Castle Facebook page, Jason Simmons, talked with Carl Lopp about the tower in May. “Carl told me his structural engineer said they’d only have to replace about a dozen bricks or so,” Simmons said.
In the meantime, Carl Lopp seemed more concerned about work on the fountain in front. “He’s cleaned out the fountain and said he’ll have a plumber come out to see about getting it flowing again,” Simmons said.
68 days after the city assessed the tower, neighbors heard a large crash after days of rain. When they went outside to look, they saw that the porch on the west side of the house had partially collapsed. A small pile of bricks could be seen scattered on the broken front porch.
It wasn’t vividly clear when I drove up to the property on June 27 what damage had been done. My heart sunk as I stood in front of the fence and looked at the mound of material that was so carefully crafted for Anthony Sauer just shy of 150 years ago now resting in blistered, broken pieces.
I wasn’t about to let this go unanswered; I pleaded to the Sauer Castle Facebook page to write to the city and contact the media; it was time to intervene. Time was running out. What other damage was on the horizon?
I told Fox 4 in an interview that the cause of the damage wasn’t weather- it was the negligence of the owner. Lopp told Fox 4 that the castle had recently passed an inspection and that he had never been cited for any trouble on the property.
Public records indicate that he has been cited 25 times since 2019. According to the Unified Government’s website, he owes approximately $7.500 in delinquent taxes and tens of thousands of dollars in special assessments that continue to grow every month.
The front porch collapsing was the initial concern; however, drone footage from June 29 clearly shows the tower is in dire shape. Hundreds of bricks have fallen to the ground, and it is now presumed that the reason the front porch collapsed wasn’t from several days of rain.
The porch collapsed under the weight of falling bricks from the tower above it. In between two windows, two layers of brick have collapsed to the ground below, leaving a gaping hole straight through the structure. The makeshift wooden support under the window is gone.
It remains open to the elements.
My concern in September was brushed off by the owner. The cries for intervention from neighbors and local history lovers continues. Photos showing the damage to the tower led the Unified Government to intervene in April. Two months later, the situation has all of us wondering if it’s too late.
The property owner has 30 days to address the structural issues of the tower and provide an engineering plan to address the unfit status of the property.
A Plea to Preserve Sauer Castle
I made a promise when I spent countless hours researching the history of Sauer Castle that I wasn’t going to continue to let this property fall by the wayside. I will continue to do whatever it takes to get this property out of the hands of the current owner and into the hands of someone who will restore it.
Lopp has made it very clear that he will not sell the home, and options for saving the structure are limited. The Unified Government can continue to assess the property and by court order intervene if the owner doesn’t make the needed repairs. But is that enough?
Even family members don’t believe Lopp is prepared to make the repairs needed. “Carl continues to tell people he has someone working on the house, but you can’t trust anything he says,” Victoria said.
Kansas law does include eminent domain; the government could take the property from Carl Lopp, but they couldn’t sell it. It would have to be used for public purposes, such as a park or a museum. After the recent damage to the tower, Commissioner Christian Ramirez wrote, “It is heartbreaking and infuriating that this building is being neglected. UG staff and I are doing everything we can to ensure that this property does not completely fail! And I, as the Commissioner, will do everything in my power to save Sauer Castle!”
Wyandotte County residents are tired after 33 years of broken promises. In a recent survey, hundreds of residents told me they want to see the city do more to save it. “This castle has been an icon in the community since I was a child,” one Kansas City, Ks. resident wrote. “It should not be allowed to get run down the way it has.”
“It’s a shame that this historical home has been neglected for so long,” another current Wyandotte Co. resident said. “It’s time for the city to take action because the owner is not. Multiple people have offered to help in restoring or even buying the property. What is the owner waiting for? He has had enough time. It’s time for the city to take it out of his hands.”
The writing, so they say, is on the wall. And if we want to save this beautiful landmark from further destruction, the plan cannot involve the current owner.
For now, the clock is ticking for repairs to begin as people are forced to watch Sauer Castle from a distance fall apart brick-by-brick.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.