Nearly a year after property code enforcers boarded up the vacant historic hilltop mansion known as Sauer Castle, Kansas City, Kansas, officials are asking area residents what more ought be done to save it.
And more than 4 out of 5 who responded to a recent survey want city and county government to seize the 3,900-square-foot Victorian Age treasure from its absentee owner, restore and open it to the public.
An event space, museum or winery? An overwhelming majority supported all three options in the online poll conducted by the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County..
“The building is just falling apart,” UG chief spokeswoman Ashley Hand said.
The community has said it would support using eminent domain to take the property if that would preserve the castle, she said.
“We just recognize there’s limited capacity that we have as an organization to do anything beyond that. So it really does need to be handed over to somebody else,” Hand said.
The UG hopes to locate that somebody before the house is too far gone to restore, she said.
Owner Carl Lopp disagrees and accuses the UG of trying to get title to the property and turn it over to cronies who want to make a profit as a haunted house or some other business.
“It’s all a scam,” he told The Star. “It’s disgusting!”
The survey was posted online in September after a local historian sounded a warning in a heartfelt email to the UG’s governing body.
“It’s only a matter of time before there is little, if nothing, left to save,” Diane Euston told UG officials in the message she sent them in late June. Euston said the front porch had caved in and the four-story tower that is part of the 150-year-old home at 935 Shawnee Road was in danger of collapsing.
“It is time that aggressive action be taken against the owner,” Euston said.
Completed in late 1872, the brick structure sits on what was once a large acreage high above Turkey Creek and the Kansas River.
It was originally home to a wealthy businessman and German immigrant named Anton Sauer. He died a few years after moving in, but family members continued to occupy it until the early 1950s, selling off most of the land surrounding it along the way until only three acres remained.
“The house was built in the Italian Villa style,” according to the form nominating it in 1976 for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. “Originally it stood on a sixty-three acre site that was landscaped and terraced for Sauer’s vineyards.”
There was a fish pond and a fountain out front, too.
More than three decades after the property fell out of the family’s hands, Lopp, Anton Sauer’s great-great grandson, reclaimed it for the family in 1988. He later bought three nearby properties that were part of the original estate.
The New York businessman announced then that he planned to restore the home to its former grandeur, beginning a now 35-year-long renovation project that shows no signs of completion anytime soon.
Lopp has been repeatedly cited for property violations since the 1990s, tangling with the city of KCK, then the UG after the county and city combined operations. He owes $17,000 in fines, Hand said.
Public property records show he owes another $7,000 in back taxes and late fees on the castle, as well as $14,000 in taxes that are past due on two of the three other properties.
Last December, police accompanied a contractor that the Unified Government hired to board up broken windows and protect the interior from rain and snow after Lopp failed to do so.
Lopp spoke with reporters that day with a pistol in his pocket. He said he needed to protect himself against the trespassers and vandals who for decades have been drawn to the house for what the website hauntedhouses.com once called its “spooky countenance.”
The Unified Government shored up the house’s decaying tower last summer when Lopp did not perform the needed work, and in September the UG invited people to “walk, bike or drive by this beautiful private home to catch a glimpse of some beautiful architecture” and then give their opinions on what its future ought to be.
If there was no other option to preserve the structure but by taking the property from its owner, 83% of survey respondents said they approved of using eminent domain to seize it.
A similar number supported turning it into a museum after it was in safe hands, while roughly two out of three thought it should be used as an event space for weddings and the like.
The man who owned the castle prior to Lopp told The Star in 2015 that he had begun work turning it into a bed and breakfast, but faced opposition and sold it to Lopp, who hasn’t had much success either.
“It’s going to take a long time,” he told Fox 4 recently. “There’s a lot of expense involved. We’ve gotten no assist from the city. In fact, it’s been the opposite. They’ve come after us left, right and center.”
They can keep coming after him, as far as many Sauer Castle fans are concerned. After that recent TV update, they weighed in on a Facebook page with 12,800 members that is dedicated to Sauer Castle’s preservation.
“More talk. More media recognition,” one of them posted Tuesday morning. “....but when will the day finally come to take control...sigh.”
Following the post was an emoji of someone shedding a tear.