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Saturday, December 5, 2020

Historic Sauer Castle is a Landmark in Serious Trouble


A photo taken on my September 2020 visit to Sauer Castle

I won’t soon forget the day that I was the first journalist allowed onto historic Sauer Castle’s grounds in over 30 years.

Carl Lopp, owner of Sauer Castle since 1988 and the great-great grandson of the man who built it, wasn’t thrilled with my description of the Castle in the article I wrote in the newspaper just weeks prior. He read it, and he wanted to meet face-to-face.


Is Sauer Castle “in shambles” as I wrote in the article? Could Carl convince me to publicly “take back” the words I carefully crafted?

 

The reason Carl requested I visit the castle was, frankly, to prove me wrong.

 

I’ll let those of you who know me well or have followed my writing take a quick guess of how this turned out.

 

Before I even delve into my outdoor inspection of the property and what happened on that warm September day as my editor and me listened for over an hour to the castle’s owner, I need to tell you the history behind this historic landmark.

 

This visit needs a review of the facts.

*********************

An early 1900s family photo of Sauer Castle and its fountain. Image courtesy @ThomasLWeddings

Anthony Sauer

Nestled on a cliff overlooking the Kaw River valley stands a brick mansion that holds generations of memories and the story of success of a German immigrant. Commonly referred to as Sauer Castle, this Italianate Villa at 935 Shawnee Rd. in Kansas City, Ks. has been the source of much speculation for its entire existence. Rumors of multiple deaths, supposed murders, and ghost sightings in this now-vacant villa leads to its lore.

Its current condition doesn’t help with the suspicions surrounding the three-acre property. Windows are boarded up; the grounds that once contained an orchard, greenhouse and a vineyard have transformed into an overgrown thicket of volunteer trees and brush that have overtaken other Sauer-built structures that were erected with no expense spared. Frankly, the property stands as a shell of its former grandeur.

The interior of St. Ignatius Church (built 1776)
 where Anthony was baptized

 

The history of this castle starts with the vision of an enterprising man and his quest to build the best money could buy.


Anton Philip Sauer (who went by Anthony) was born in Mainz, the largest city in the Rhineland in 1823 to Florian and Eva. He was baptized at a small church called St. Ignatius just on the other side of the Rhine from where he was raised.

Anthony was on the move by the time he was 15. He worked first as a bookkeeper in Russia and moved by the age of 17 to Austria. There, he met a woman named Francisca and married at the age of 18 in 1844. They had five children together in Austria: Gustave, Anton, Jr., Julius, Emil and Johanna.

 

Anthony traveled extensively for business and for a time worked as a merchant in Australia and Costa Rica. He dealt in wine, wool, cotton, and coffee.


In the mid-1850s, he decided to try his luck in the United States and immigrated with his family to New York City. There, his wife passed away.

 

Due to his own ill health, it was suggested that the cleaner air to the west may benefit him. With two sons, he worked in freighting in the Rocky Mountains and opened a tannery in Kansas City. The tannery burned in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War.


He dabbled in real estate, buying up many different properties in Kansas City, Mo. He also invested his money in steamboats that traveled between Kansas City and St. Louis. Anthony, it seems, had become extremely successful in his extensive enterprises.

 

By 1868, Anthony and his children had settled into growing Kansas City. His sons bought interest in a grocery store at 3rd and Main as Anthony settled into a home at 17th and Grand while serving as president of the German Savings Association.

 

Anton Philip Sauer (1823-1879) and his second wife, Maria (1841-1919)

In 1869, Anthony met a recently widowed 28-year-old woman with two girls named Maria “Mary” Messerschmidt. They married and opted to start their own family. Anthony decided to look for a piece of property to build upon that reminded him of his homeland.


Building Sauer Castle

 

Around 1870, Sauer set his sights on some land towering on the cliffs overlooking the Kaw River near Rosedale, Ks. The land was originally patented by Shawnee Indian Thomas Bigknife and was sold to Col. J.L. Pritchard.  Pritchard was using the land as a fruit farm when Sauer set his eyes for the first time on the property.

Kansas City Times, March 1, 1873 


After purchasing the 63 acres, Sauer started carefully planning. Asa Beebe Cross (1826-1894) whose work includes the Vaile Mansion, Union Depot in the West Bottoms, Vaughan’s Diamond Building and Gillis Opera House, was commissioned to design Sauer’s new stately mansion.


Vaile Mansion in Independence, Mo.
Cross was one of Kansas City’s most important architects through the area’s early boom, and sadly, further growth of the city sealed the fate of most of his creations.


Today, only the Vaile Mansion (1881), St. Patrick’s Church (1875-finished in 1881) and Sauer Castle survived the bulldozers.


This house is the oldest of his designs left.


The first building constructed on the property was said to be a barn to hold materials for his large project. It is said that everything except for the stone foundation was imported from St. Louis.


Perched on top of the bluffs looking north into the Kaw River valley, the house was built on the old Shawnee Indian trace that fed into the Santa Fe Trail.


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 along the southern road.” 


The front entrance had double, three-paneled doors of solid walnut with an arched stone frame. Two hand-carved sandstone lions were set to guard the impressive entrance of the mansion.

The front parlor at Sauer Castle. Courtesy @ThomasLWeddings


On the first floor, 14-foot ceilings with 12-foot high windows welcomed visitors. It was said that seven yards of fabric was required for each window. The receiving room included an impressive staircase with hand-carved Rosewood spindles. 


The gilded mirror that was
in the front parlor is still in the family.
Photo courtesy of Victoria Hampton

The shiny wood floors were made of alternate light and dark wood and were covered with expensive rugs. The parlor on the west side featured Belgian lace curtains and a large fireplace with imported marble. Underneath the parlor was a large, deep wine cellar.


The music room adjoined the parlor and, along with another fireplace, included a grand piano. 

 

The dining room to the west of the entrance was furnished with a marble-top table and 24 chairs. Walls were covered with expensive paintings featuring religious figures- the Sauers were devout Catholics. A system of bells on wires could be rung from any room in the house and would signal the servants to the room they were needed.

 

Chandeliers imported from a supplier in Vienna, Austria are said to have had “more than 600 pieces of individually cut crystals that sparkled magnificently as the candlelight danced through them.”

 

The second floor held the spacious bedrooms. The master bedroom had solid walnut furniture with marble tops, lace curtains and expensive rugs. The Sauer home was the first in the entire area to have built-in closets and running water; a hydraulic engine pumped hot and cold water from a large spring on the property. A second-floor bathroom was equipped with an elaborate marble tub for bathing.


The third floor held the servant’s quarters and a small room built to be a classroom (each child had their own desk). From the third floor, a staircase ascended to the tower with a lookout showcasing the spectacular view.


The rear parlor at Sauer Castle. Photo courtesy of @ThomasLWeddings

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.”

Even the basement was impressive. “Under the kitchen is a vegetable cellar- under the dining room a fine, well-lighted and airy apartment for a billiard room- under the parlor a deep wine cellar, the key of which Mr. Sauer intends to keep snug in his own pocket,”  the Wyandotte Gazette wrote.

The Sauer family
Left to right: Mary’s two daughters from her first marriage: Mary and Anna Messerschmidt; Sauer children - Eva Sauer Perkins, Josephine Sauer Kinney, Antoinette Sauer McClean, Clara Sauer and Mother Maria Sauer. Photo courtesy of @ThomasLWeddings


The Impressive Grounds


Not only was the main house a showstopper, but the acreage around it was meant to amaze the passerby. Surrounded by an iron fence with ominous pointed spikes, Anthony spared no expense on the grounds of his property. It is said that the house cost $20,000 to build and he shelled out $40,000 to improve the grounds surrounding it. 


A 120x20 foot greenhouse sparked the curiosity of Kansas Citians. Sauer loved horticulture, and his grandiose greenhouse housed imported flowers from Europe. His orchids were award-winning, and his year-round access to flowers meant fresh arrangements always adorned the dining room table. 

The wine cellar, built 1873, was in great shape in the 1970s


Unusual plants and trees were also imported from Europe and planted on the property. A fountain in the front yard had water piped from a nearby spring.Stone pig-pens, a chicken house, a smoke and milk house along with outdoor brick ovens also graced the grounds of the property.


A man after my own heart, Anthony Sauer held a sweet spot for not just drinking fine wine-but he also wanted to make it. He planted 18 acres of vines on his property and built a wine cellar from stone on the side of the cliff.  The cellar measured approximately 35-feet long, 15-feet wide, and 12-feet high. Vine-covered arches led from the entrance of the cellar and a high-arched ceiling complimented racks placed to hold kegs of wine.

An early photo of the wine cellar shows its careful construction. Courtesy of @ThomasLWeddings


For years, his 18 acres of “fine vineyards” produced grapes to be made into wine.

 

An outdoor pergola and a small garden were adorned with furniture for summer dining. Anthony’s health was never the best, so when he was outside in the summer he wore a gold mesh mask to cover his face and heavy felt chest pads that were thought to protect his lungs.


In 1875, tragedy struck directly into the home when Anthony’s 23-year-old son, Emil from his first marriage died inside the castle. He had been ill for some time after an injury.


A view from the tower in the early 1900s.
Image courtesy @ThomasLWeddings
Anthony and his second wife, Mary had four girls together who survived into adulthood: Eva (b. 1870), Antoinette (b.1871), Josephine (b. 1873) and Clara (b. 1876). He would spend hours with his children outdoors and taught them German songs in his gorgeous gardens.

 

His declining health had his family aware his death was near. As he was bedridden in the summer of 1879, his one-year-old daughter named Helen passed away in the home in July. Knowing her own husband was close to death, Mary temporarily buried Helen in the garden on the property.

 

One month and one day later on August 16, 1879, Anthony Sauer passed away in the master bedroom on the second floor from tuberculosis. He was 53 years old. He left his 38-year-old wife, three young children, two stepdaughters, and four grown children behind. The newspaper said, “He was a true husband and a kind, indulgent father.” Helen and Anthony were buried in Union Cemetery.


Mary continued to live on the property after his death. She couldn’t keep up with the orchards, vineyard and the grounds, so in 1914, she sold off 41 acres of land to be developed into a subdivision. Twelve acres, including the land that held the stone chicken coops, smokehouse and wine cellar, remained.

Eva Sauer and John Perkins with their children: John Harrison, Marguerite, and Eva Marie.
Courtesy Victoria Hampton


Anthony and Mary Sauer’s oldest daughter, Eva Marie (1870-1955) married William Von Faussen and had one daughter named Helen. They divorced after an 18-month marriage. She married widower John Seaman Perkins in 1907.


The swimming pool. Courtesy Victoria Hampton
They went on to have three children: Marguerite (b.1910), John Harrison (b. 1911) and Eva Marie (b.1913).


In 1919, Anthony's widow, Mary passed away after a stroke at Eva and John Perkins’ home at 3704 Pennsylvania in Kansas City, Mo. Wanting to ensure the castle stayed in the family, John and Eva Sauer Perkins decided to move back to Eva’s childhood home.


In 1923, Eva oversaw extensive renovations to the home her father built. A kitchen addition off the back was added along with a garage. 


On the west side of the property, a large swimming pool was dug. Elegant landscaping which complimented the well-manicured acreage Anton oversaw was added around the new pool.

John S. Perkins (1855-1930)
@ThomasLWeddings
Three young children, including little Eva (named after her mother), grew up surrounded by all the grandeur of Sauer Castle. She told her children about her fond memories of curling up in her father, John Perkins’ lap in a chair next to the fireplace while he read to her.

 

Tragedy once again struck the Sauer family when a fourth death occurred inside the stately castle.


On May 20, 1930, John S. Perkins shot himself in the head in the upstairs bathroom. The Kansas City Star reported, “He had been in ill health for a year and despondency is given as a cause for this act.”


Eva Marie Perkins-Martin in 1931
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
John’s widow, Eva – a strong, well-educated woman- was able to pick up the pieces and continued to live in the house her father built. Her daughter, Eva picked up a secretarial position in order to help pay the bills and keep the grounds well-manicured and beautiful.


The orchards were still producing, and with her mother, they would make jams and preserves to keep in the cool basement.


For years, the grounds and the house were an impressive place where family continued to gather for events large and small.

 

In 1937, 23-year-old Eva Marie Perkins married George F. Martin and finally moved away to Austin, Tx. from her beloved childhood home.


In 1940, more misfortune hit the Sauers. Two-year-old Cecilia Perkins, granddaughter to Eva and daughter of John Harrison Perkins, was found floating in the swimming pool in two feet of water. The Kansas City Star reported, “Cecilia had been playing in the yard and had not been missed by her mother who was preparing dinner. Apparently, she fell into the water and was overcome before she could call for aid.”

 

Cecilia Perkins who drowned
in the pool in 1940.
Courtesy @ThomasLWeddings
Yes, there have been multiple deaths on the property. Rumors of hauntings of the castle began in the 1930s, likely caused by these documented tragedies. They’ve intensified as the appearance of the castle has declined. 

 

Eva stayed in the home after daughter Eva Martin moved to Austin.


Memories of Eva Sauer Perkins


Eva Martin’s daughter, Victoria Martin Hampton, holds fond memories of her grandmother and visiting Sauer Castle as a child.

 

“Believe it or not, my sister and I took a train from Austin by ourselves when we were seven and nine years old to visit,” Victoria remembered.

 

Eva Sauer Perkins outside the house her father built
Courtesy @ThomasLWeddings
That time visiting her grandmother at Sauer Castle has stuck with Victoria after all these years.  Her own mother, Eva had grown up inside its walls and wanted her daughters to spend time with Eva Marie Sauer Perkins, who they called Gross Mutter (German for Grandmother).


“I have very distinct memories of sleeping on little mattresses on the floor in her bedroom,” Victoria recalled. “In the middle of the night, I’d wake up when she’d pull out a chamber pot and use it!”

 

I suppose that the state-of-the-art second floor bathroom Gross Mutter’s father, Anthony had put into the castle was a wee bit far for an aging woman.


Victoria’s excitement while visiting her grandmother in Sauer Castle extended past her experiences in the middle of the night.


“I can remember going up to the widow’s walk- climbing that narrow staircase as a child,” she explained. “We also were allowed to go down the basement where they put all of their preserves. Gross Mutter gave us biscuits and crackers as we played down there.”


There is something about these memories- these recollections of those who hold stake in such an incredible landmark. Those memories aren’t often told in newspaper clippings or in legal documents I search.

 

"Gross Mutter" Eva Sauer Perkins with her grandchildren: Sharon, Victoria, Laura and Bruce.
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
When I conduct research, I go “all in.” What sets me apart from most historians are two things: I contact living descendants and I tell history in stories. The people who built and lived in this incredible space have stories to tell.

One of Eva's beautiful paintings
Image courtesy Victoria Hampton

Victoria is one of those many stories that bring living history to a landmark.


She recalled that her grandmother was a musician and an artist who was well-educated while growing up in the castle her father built. “She was so well-cultured and such an elegant lady,” Victoria reminisced.

 

She even laughed about how her sisters say they have a “castle mentality.” They learned to become gracious hostesses and still hold many of the treasures that do remain of her great-grandfather’s furnishings at Sauer Castle. Her sister has the large gold-tiered mirror and the silver that once was used on that marble-topped dining room table is still in the family.


Eva Marie Sauer Perkins, Gross Mutter, stayed in the home until the house was sold to its first “outsider” in 1954. Five generations of Sauer descendants had lived in the castle. One year after, Eva passed away in Grandview, Mo.


Sauer Castle is Sold 


Paul Berry (1909-1985), a single man who was an oil truck driver with an eye for antiques, bought the home from the family and stuffed it full of items. His unique personality (including rarely lighting the house while even inside) had stories of spirits afloat.


Sauer Castle in 1977
Courtesy Sam Goller
Incredibly private, Berry continued to live in the home and listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

J.R. Russell, then-president of the Wyandotte County Historical Society wrote in 1978, “[Berry] has on several occasions forcefully ejected trespassers, vandals and looters. He has two vicious German Shepherd dogs to keep loiterers, looters and larcenists off the estate.”


A three-legged dog lurking on the castle’s grounds didn’t help with all the drama.


Paul Berry wasn’t afraid to protect Sauer Castle. In 1964, he was arrested after putting a half dozen bullets into the side of a car occupied by five teenagers who drove onto the property. 

 

After 76-year-old Berry passed away in December 1985, his brother was left to clean out the overstuffed Sauer Castle.  Only two rooms and the kitchen were open for living space – the rest was stuffed with antiques. His brother worked for six months sorting through over 50,000 items so they could be auctioned off from the Sauer Castle grounds.

 

Kansas City Star headline,
April 1964
“Berry’s pride and joy, a 1902 Stanley Steamer. . . occupied a place of honor just inside the 10-foot-tall front doors, right in front of the staircase,” the Kansas City Star reported.


“Most” of the original features of the home were still preserved, including the marble fireplaces, imported crystal chandeliers and the stair railing that climbed from the basement all the way up to the third floor.

 

It was time for a new owner.

  

The front porch
@ThomasLWeddings

The Wyandotte County Historical Society flirted with purchasing the home and making it a museum. The house sold in 1986 to Bud Wyman and his son and daughter-in-law, Cliff and Cindy Jones. The house needed restoration, but even as they did work on the home, they opened it up to visitors. They had plans to make it into a bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, the neighborhood rejected the idea because of the possibility of increased traffic.


Neighbors, Sauer descendants and historic preservation groups breathed a sigh of relief when a great-great grandson of the original owner named Carl G. Lopp opted to buy the property in 1988 for around $200,000 with the goal to restore it.

 

Unfortunately, it’s clear now, these hopes now seem far-fetched.

 

The Castle is Bought By Carl Lopp


Carl Lopp
Courtesy Victoria Hampton


Carl Lopp, a 64-year-old New York socialite, seemed to have lofty plans for his family’s historic property. Even with a caretaker, vandals continuously came onto the property, likely enticed by the ghost stories surrounding it.


While no one was allowed inside the home, increased deterioration could be seen from the street. Windows were broken, the roof had extensive holes, the iron around the widow’s peak was falling down, and the grounds that once showcased one of the most beautiful gardens in the area had tree limbs scattered on the unkempt lawn. 

 

Seeing the improvements inside is a problem; Lopp doesn’t open Sauer Castle for anyone.

 

… Except for a sprinkling of hired workers and family.

 

So, I talked to descendants of Anthony Sauer, and they had much to say about what they’ve seen and the future of Sauer Castle.

 

Victoria Hampton is Carl Lopp’s first cousin once removed- Carl’s mother was Victoria’s first cousin. 

 

1996 photo of Sauer Castle. Courtesy Victoria Hampton
Victoria came to Kansas City to visit family with her sisters in 1996. While on that visit, Carl proudly welcomed the family to Sauer Castle. What Victoria saw had her very concerned.

 “The house was in pretty bad shape then,” Victoria told me. “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.”

 

The entrance in 1996
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
On that visit, they didn’t go past the first floor. They walked the grounds, and Victoria noted that the smokehouse and chicken coop had collapsed


In August 1996, further damage was reported on the property when the caretaker and a friend were charged with $30,000 in theft of items, including “an antique chandelier, wall sconces, an antique dress and a garden tractor.”


Wyandotte County slapped the house “unfit for habitation” in the 1990s as neighbors and history lovers lamented from a distance at the deteriorating state of Sauer Castle.


In addition to housing violations accruing, Lopp was developing a reputation of playing the property tax game. He’d dodge the property tax for three years – the maximum allowed before the property was sold on the courthouse steps- then he would walk in days before the deadline and cut a check.

 

In 1997, Lopp was found guilty of two housing court violations and was sentenced to probation. He was ordered to pay back taxes and come up with a formal plan to restore the home.

 

He failed to meet the terms of his probation, and a bench warrant was issued.


Oct. 8, 1998 headline in the Kansas City Star
In June 1998, Lopp returned to Kansas City to attend his mother’s funeral. At the visitation, the police arrested him for not reporting to jail. He was released hours before the funeral and his lawyer filed an appeal. His lawyer insisted that Lopp still had plans to restore the home.


Whether there was a contractor or plan on paper in 1998 is unknown.

 

Lopp bought the property next door and the duplex behind it on S. 10th St. This likely had the city and neighbors a bit nervous- there was fear that since he showed little care for the castle, other properties would end up in disrepair.

 

They were right.


A New Plan to Restore the Castle

 

A Lawrence developer named Dan Riedemann wanted to restore the mansion, open a winery and build bungalows for overnight guests on acreage surrounding the landmark. His specialty was restoring historic properties, and he had offered to buy the property from Carl Lopp.


1999 image of the house
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
Lopp’s answer was no.

 

Riedemann went to the city with his redevelopment proposal. The city had been concerned for years about the property, and Riedemann’s plan was recommended to the Board of Commissioners.

 

That plan probably had Lopp pretty nervous.

 

If the plan was approved, revenue from the project would help pay for wider roads and sewers. This “would give the Unified Government power of eminent domain, meaning the government could condemn the property, if necessary,” the Kansas City Star reported.

 

On Aug. 25, 1999, Lopp came to town and called for a meeting with neighbors in order to counter this proposal and insisted, yet again, that he was going to restore the property.


He asserted that he’d repaired the chimneys, brickwork, rebuilt the fireplaces, repaired the dormers, removed rotting floors in the basement, redone the plumbing in the bathrooms and replaced the electrical wiring.

 

The Kansas City Star reported, “Lopp was criticized by Unified Government commissioners for inaction during his 11 years of ownership, for owing back taxes and for having been convicted of building-code violations on the property.”

Aug. 25, 1998 headline in the Kansas City Star

 

Lopp was going to live in the mansion, he claimed.


Some neighbors weren’t thrilled with the idea that other houses would be condemned and torn down if Riedemenn’s plan came to fruition. Others asked where Carl Lopp’s plans were to restore the castle. It had been over 10 years since he bought it, and photographs indicate that the house was not being renovated or maintained.

 

A few months later, a 41-acre redevelopment district was approved. Lopp was very close to losing the castle to eminent domain. He asked for a 30-day delay so he could develop his own plan.  Neighbors wanted to give him another chance.

1996 photo of the west porch shows its
danger before repairs
Courtesy Victoria Hampton

Carl lamented that the city wouldn’t let him put up a fence. So, he blamed the city for the vandalism. Frankly, he blames the city for most of the current state of Sauer Castle.

 

He needed a plan so he could keep the castle- a plan that would help quash the plans the city had.

 

Carl got into contact with A.L. Huber General Contractor, a well-respected and award-winning company run by CEO August L. Huber, III.

 

“I offered to work with an architect of Carl Lopp’s choosing and provide a scope description and estimate of all of the improvements necessary to achieve his vision, but he demurred,” Huber explained.


Although it’s been years since this happened, Huber did recall that Lopp wanted to attack the problems one at a time instead of fixing everything all at once. Regardless, a contract was signed in November 1999 and work was set to begin in January 2000.

 

Lopp wanted a fence around the property to protect it, and he was finally given permission to put one up. Huber subcontracted the work to erect the 8-foot, chain-link green fence that still stands today.

 

Carl Lopp giving a tour to family in 2007
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
In March 2000, the Kansas City Star wrote, “In the last year, Lopp has cleared brush from the grounds, replaced broken window glass and repaired the brick facade. It remains inhabitable, but Lopp still vows to renovate it and move in.”

 

In midst of the repairs, the proposal to turn the property into a winery fell through due to financing.

 

Huber recalled that he and Lopp agreed that one of the most serious problems was the front porch on the west side of the house. “The substructure was almost completely deteriorated and needed replacement,” Huber remembered. “The columns, rails, ornamental woodwork and trim on the house were also a mess.”

 

Huber’s carpenters worked for several weeks on the porch; they replaced the substructure, decking and columns. Unfortunately, the work wasn’t completed because Lopp stopped making payments.

 

“After three or more weeks, I pulled the two guys off the project until we could get it settled,” Huber stated.


Huber had to sue for the remainder of the money due. According to court records, A.L. Huber was awarded a judgement for the amount due in 2004. “After many thousand dollars in attorney’s fees, we finally got our money,” Huber recalled.

 

While the castle’s repairs appear to have halted, Carl Lopp was back in the Northeast in 2005 at Greenwich Concours d’Elegance’s showcase of cars where he won an award for his red 2001 Ferrari 550 Barchetta.


Family Weighs in With Their Concerns


As more potential delinquent tax sales came and went with Carl Lopp paying the taxes and fines at the very last minutes, more extended family came into town to see their descendant’s castle on the hill. Always the tour guide topped with a cowboy hat accented with a feather, Carl Lopp accepted the chance to show off Sauer Castle.

 

Photo shows the state of the west porch before repair
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
In 2011, Thomas D. Laurance, a wedding photographer in New York City, was one of those descendants who was always fascinated by the family stories surrounding Sauer Castle. His own mother lived in the home for a short time.

 

On a visit to Kansas City, Laurance took a risk and contacted his distant cousin, Carl and asked for a tour of the home. “Carl has a soft spot for family,” Laurance explained. When Laurance was let on the property for a tour with his cousin, he took video of the condition of the interior. Rubble covered the floors, windows were boarded up, and every step was an obstacle around broken materials.

 

Earlier photos, some of which I have shared here, indicate that the property was in desperate need of love in the mid 1990s. Some repairs did happen- such as the ones documented by A.L. Huber- and others that were vital to the survival of Sauer Castle, such as a completely new roof to cover gaping holes, had yet to happen. When Laurance walked through the doors, he recorded the visit.

 

That video is available on YouTube (click here!) and I have posted it on this blog for easy accessibility. It is worth the watch.


Laurance explained that much of the bones of the home were still structurally sound. Transoms still opened and closed and intricate knobs still adorned the doors. Lopp openly discussed with his extended family his lofty plans to restore the property- most of which haven’t happened.


The photos and video are the evidence. They are facts in film.

 

The front parlor in 2007
Courtesy Victorian Hampton
After his visit, Laurance did more research on his own and realized that there was more to the restoration of Sauer Castle. There were groups of people who had tried for years to get the property away from his distant relative with the hopes of restoring it.

 

People have watched those tax sales every three years, hoping it would be the year they could purchase the home and restore it.


It became clear to Laurance that Lopp wasn’t willing to work to restore the home.

Victoria Hampton came to that same conclusion a decade earlier and told me how mad her cousin got at her when she told him how she felt to his face.


The lions guard the front porch
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
She recalled, “I said to Carl, ‘You mean to tell me this was still a functional, living and habitable place when you bought it? And you have let it get to this point?’”

 

I could sense the sincere frustration that Victoria had when she spoke to me. She, along with so many others, have hoped that the city would intervene.

 

In 2015, a Facebook group page called “Sauer Castle” was created and now has over 10,000 members all dedicated to restoring the property. Laurance joined the group and shared some scanned historic photos of the house and family.


“Carl called me up and asked me to take the photos down,” Laurance claims. He agreed and removed the photos to keep the peace.

 

The wine cellar in 2007.
Courtesy of Victoria Hampton
But as time went on, Laurance found that complying with Carl Lopp wasn’t assisting with the ultimate goal of saving the castle. So, he put the images back up on the page. 

 

Carl then threatened to sue him. Even with the threat, Laurance kept the images up.

 

“This is my family history, too,” Laurance explained.

 

Both Thomas Laurance and Victoria Hampton gave me permission to publish their family photos.


In 2018, Sauer Castle suffered a serious blow- literally. A microburst did even more damage to the west side of the property and the tower. The damage remains.


The Tax Sale Auction of Sauer Castle

 

In April 2020, the three-year clock was set to expire on Carl Lopp’s tax payment game. Not just had three years of property taxes piled up- but the castle had 28 property violations just in the past two years. 

 

“The special taxes are for special assessments charged to the property for mowing and trash/debris removal,” Wendy M. Green, Assistant Council for Wyandotte County explained.  Property records also indicate that Lopp received his 11th citation for “failure to register vacant property” in October.


The original tax sale was delayed due to the pandemic. It had been rescheduled for Dec. 10. 


Lopp filed an appeal. The minute I saw this on the city’s website, I emailed the city and received confirmation. “Judge Burns ordered that he can go on one more payment plan by paying half of the taxes up front.  Mr. Lopp must make that payment by December 9 to remove the property from the sale,” Green responded.

 

A recent photo of Sauer Castle
Sauer Castle will not be a part of the tax sale. 


Carl Lopp paid half what is owed on Sauer Castle at 935 Shawnee Rd. to avoid the auction yet again.

 

The clock starts over.

 

Every tick of the clock is time that passes where past projects remain abandoned and additional problems arise. If we go by Carl Lopp’s past 30-plus year record, it’s more than likely that all of us will be forced to watch from a distance until he either sells or is forced to sell.


Hope for the Future

 

Thomas Laurance, Victoria Hampton and many others are sickened by the current condition of the property and hope with the help of others to protect and preserve it for future generations.

 

“Carl is the reason that the castle looks the way it does today,” Victoria insisted. “When Carl bought the castle- I cannot stress this enough- it was still a working, living, habitable building. He has allowed it to deteriorate to this point.”

 

She cited all the stolen chandeliers and missing fireplace mantles. Noting the photos she shared with me, Victoria pointed to the missing wrought-iron narrow balconies that once highlighted the front windows.  These accents may be cosmetic, but they are vitally important to the life that remains of Sauer Castle. As they say, “The devil is in the details.” These details inside and out  are slowly disappearing from this national landmark.

 

Victoria believes that there has been an increased amount of vandalism because the house has been vacant for so long. “Carl has been an absent landlord, and the only one responsible for its current condition is Carl. To me, what’s been done is a crime and he has no respect for our ancestors and heritage,” she declared.

 

There are people who are ready to help restore the castle, including historic preservationists, flooring specialists and carpenters. But given Carl’s 32-year history, no one is stepping forward to help him. Trust in his word has been broken countless times. People are tired.

 

Regardless, Sauer Castle, stooped high up on the bluffs overlooking the Kaw River, is a treasure worth saving from further gross neglect. She needs us all now more than ever.

 

**********

 


A Visit to Hear Carl’s Side of the Story


I stated in my article in the Martin City Telegraph published September of this year that “to state that Lopp has neglected the mansion is an understatement.” Just as I did here in this blog,I went through the slow decline of the property and broken promises Carl Lopp has made.

The front entrance today
Photo courtesy Kathy Feist

Carl read my article. He wasn’t happy with my assessment and demanded that I, basically, take it back.

 

He wanted to prove how incorrect I was by inviting my editor, Kathy and I to the property so he could show us all of the improvements he has made over the years.

 

“Surprised” doesn’t accurately describe my reaction when I received this phone call from my editor. Carl wanted to meet us this weekend, she said. He wanted to talk to me.


I also knew that in the past, Carl hasn’t spoken to reporters- he doesn’t return their phone calls. The few times he’s been on the record have been at public events, so the fact he wanted to “set the record straight” was… shocking.

 

On Sept. 19, Carl greeted me as we walked toward the Castle. For a few awkward minutes, I waited, making small talk, until my editor arrived. It was a long few minutes.

 

It was surreal to see Sauer Castle up close- without a green fence blocking a clear view. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Instead of directly addressing all of what he claimed were “lies,” Carl began a full-blown Disneyland-style walking tour of the grounds.

 

The east side of the house.
Courtesy Kathy Feist
The script was rehearsed and perfected – he has regurgitated the same stories- with the same attention to specific details- that I had seen in Thomas Laurance’s video and in Victoria’s stories she told me.


Even though he had read my article and should have acknowledged that I knew the history of Sauer Castle quite well, he still started from the very beginning- unable to break from the repeated record of detail given to people less informed than I. Without much of a thought, he began with Anton Sauer wanting to find a view that reminded of his homeland- like, he started that far back.

 

This, to me, was insulting. But to him, it was part of the show- but he missed a key ingredient:

 

Know your audience.


Carl pointing out the beautiful brickwork with 
my editor, Kathy looking on
He was even in his costume, complete with the pale khaki cowboy hat donned with its signature single feather.

 

We traveled to the east side of the property first where Carl pointed out how beautiful and well-preserved the brickwork is. He told me that he had done tuck-pointing – a very costly expenditure. Mind you, the tuck-pointing was completed decades ago. Anyone in historic preservation knows this is something that must be maintained every 25-30 years.


He made both my editor and me awkwardly lean down and focus our eyes on the foundation to prove how straight and sturdy it is.


The foundation did look like it was in good shape, but as my editor was taking her turn leaning and looking, I took a good look inside the room that was once the parlor. Debris covered the floor- a fireplace stands practically naked.


Pocket doors looked to be in working function, but most of the beauty I had seen in the photos Thomas and Victoria shared with me has been stripped away long ago.

 

He was particularly angry that the photo I had chosen of the castle for the newspaper was a few years old. In that photo (see here), the roof is shredded in places and was an absolute detriment to the structural integrity of the home.

 

That roof had been something Victoria had mentioned to me. She was so concerned when Carl let it get to the point that blue tarps were thrown over large spots.

 

The photo that Carl Lopp was angry was chosen for the newspaper because it shows it before he replaced the roof. Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura
Because he had replaced the roof about two years ago, he considered the photo misinformation. The part Carl was missing was that he let it get to such a state that there were gaping holes in it. The damage had been done.

 

Recent drone footage shows the current condition of the castle. Courtesy Peter Foy
He lamented that people, specifically on a Facebook group page called “Sauer Castle,” are “ignorant” when they claim the castle is “falling down.” It’s articles like mine, he told me, that give people the impression that it’s falling down.

I found it particularly ironic that he told me this as I stood in the shadows of the kitchen addition off the back of the castle that, literally, has fallen down.

 

I stood on the west side in complete disbelief on what I was seeing. Courtesy Kathy Feist
No worries, though. He has grandiose plans to tear that kitchen off and build a brand new one. Oh, and he’s planning on building a multi-car garage where the two-car garage is falling to the ground. And, he’s thinking about putting solar panels on the back side of the house.

 

The wine cellar. Courtesy Victoria Hampton
I can’t make this up. This really happened. This is Carl’s reality.

The reason he doesn’t pay the taxes isn’t because he can’t- it’s because he disputes the special assessments.  


If you fix what is wrong, they won’t charge you.

 

On the positive side, there were elements of the landscape that blew me away- little morsels of the magical grounds that were carefully maintained by Anthony Sauer himself. On the south side of the home, still visible in the brush, you can see how Mr. Sauer cut away at the slope to grow his grapes. Almost like large stair steps, the land still holds this terraced feature, even though the vineyards and grapes are long gone.


Ornate details of the wine cellar have fallen apart
under Carl's ownership.
Courtesy Victoria Hampton
When we asked about the wine cellar, he brushed the topic off, motioning as he looked away and saying it was down in that direction. Mind you, where he motioned was deep into the woods. I’d seen photos. I already knew it was falling down.


Yet seeing Carl dismiss a structure- the wine cellar- something just as old as the home the way that he did shot an arrow through my heart. I suppose to him it’s not important.


As we worked our way slowly toward the west side of Sauer Castle, Carl explained that the reason there was so much damage was because of the microburst a few years ago. I would agree that the microburst did extensive damage – but it drew blood on an area of the castle that was already hemorrhaging.

 

The west side of the property where gutters
are clearly missing
Gutters were piled up on the side of the house, and I glanced up to inspect the connection of the gutters that remained. They were detached. I told him this. He ignored me for the most part.

 

The work that Huber Construction did in 2000 on the west side porch is unrecognizable. More years of neglecting ongoing required maintenance mixed with an unfortunate microburst in 2018 has sealed its fate. It doesn’t look salvageable.

 

About an hour into a tour that was avoiding the interior of the castle altogether, I began to show the frustration that had been building by the numerous dismissals of my direct questions.


The interior of the cellar
Image courtesy
Victoria Hampton
I wanted to know what his plans were- specific, detailed plans. I also wanted to touch on how concerned descendants were over the condition of the castle.


When I mentioned family, I struck a nerve. But I kept pressing.

 

I pointed to the sign out front, up for over two decades, that reads, “Family trust restoration project.”

 

Claiming there is a trust, I explained, requires legal documentation. If people want to donate, they need to know it’s going to the cause.

I pushed this issue. Was there a legal trust? Did you set up a trust?

 

No one would help him. The castle was bought for the entire family, he contended.

 

The sign indicating there is a family trust.
There is no family trust.
But did you set up a trust?

 

He admitted there is no family trust. He said it never happened because no one wanted to help. No one has ever given him a nickel.

 

This was obviously interesting to me, because I had been told that no one in the family had been asked to have a financial interest in the castle.

 

I asked Victoria about whether her cousin ever asked to get the family involved in restoration of the castle. 


“To my knowledge, he never asked anyone in the family if we could get a foundation going,” she told me. “He never sent out a letter asking anything like that.”


Trying to reason with Carl
Courtesy Kathy Feist
My editor took a photo of Carl and me having a heated exchange around this point- when I insisted he look right at the castle and proclaimed it needed at least one million in work.

Original details on the west side
sit in a pile of debris
He claimed all the “important restorations” on the Castle have been done- minus some woodwork. 


What is the plan? How long would it be before it would be restored to its former glory and someone could live inside it?


After some dancing around a declared number, Carl finally said it would be two to five years. When I mentioned that he's had three decades to restore it, he told me I was inaccurate.

 

I couldn’t reason with Carl- no one really can. He doesn’t see what the rest of us see.

 

As I walked away from Carl Lopp, I knew I wasn’t finished. His mission with this methodical tour was to convince me that I was incorrect in my words and assessment of Sauer Castle.

He failed. He is negligent and completely responsible for the ongoing destruction of this landmark.

 

At some point, the fa├žade, literally and figuratively, will fall apart. Some of it already has.

 

The clock is ticking.


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