Innkeepers keep Victorian period alive on Gladstone Boulevard
When Stephan Zweifler first laid eyes on the house at 425 Gladstone Blvd., he didn’t see decay – he saw potential.
The Queen Anne-style house needed new plumbing and new electricity, a new roof. The entire front porch had started separating from the house itself. Not that any of it mattered to Zweifler during his first visit.
“I was madly in love with it, and I had on two-inch-thick rose-colored glasses,” he jokes. “All I could see was the beauty, not the carnage.”
Zweifler and his husband, Carl Markus Jr., had renovated an estimated 20 houses between them throughout their adult lives, but both men knew that this one was going to be different. Zweifler knew from the beginning that it wasn’t just going to be a new home for the two; it would eventually become The Inn at 425, a beacon of Midwestern warmth and charm for countless visitors and guests, some of whom they would eventually call friends.
An historic place frozen in time
The first inhabitants of the house, built in 1888, were Kansas City Judge Stephen Twiss and his wife, Emeline. In 1910, shortly after the turn of the century and after the death of Judge and Mrs. Twiss, investors bought the house and set up partition walls within it, creating multiple apartments but maintaining the lush garden around the house’s grounds.
Over the course of the next 70 years, appreciation for the stately old house grew, and by the 1980s, shortly after the house had been crowned an historic landmark, the first of several renovations began. The first family, the Roscoes, removed the partition walls, put up stucco additions on the house’s exterior, opened the front porch, and reroofed the main house and the carriage barn. The second family, the Keirns, restored the house’s stencil work, as well as plaster molding. Michelle Keirns crafted the stained glass features in the house’s entryway, according to the inn’s website.
Now known to travelers the country over as The Inn at 425, a popular metro-area bed and breakfast, the structure’s 20-year journey from deterioration to dazzling has been one fraught with challenges met with persistence and patience. The house was already known to Kansas Citians and historians alike when, in the 1970s, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though the placement was an honor, Zweifler says, it meant that all of the plumbing, electrical, structure, HVAC, carpentry work, and brick work (the chimney fell off the roof shortly after the two men moved in) had to be executed with special care. Zweifler and Markus had to pay special attention to the details from the house’s past throughout the renovation process.
“All of the woodwork is original,” he notes, “but everything on a house like this is very expensive. Nothing is off the shelf. The windows in the dining room alone are over $8,000. Since this is an historic landmark, it has to look exactly like the original windows, which had rotted. So, same size, same casements.”
The two men dove into their work, knowing that every detail had to appear as near to the original as possible. They employed the help of a local carpenter, Anthony Bartlomi, who was instrumental in adhering to that need, Zweifler says.
“We met (Bartlomi) a couple of weeks after we bought the house,” Zweifler explains. “We decided we were going to make the third floor our private space, and we created it to get away from the restoration. He’s the one who restored the (main) staircase and built the deck.”But the association created another dynamic.
“When you know one person for so long, you begin to complete each other’s sentences, you understand the person’s design aesthetic. Now, it’s like working with the other half of your own brain,” Zweifler laughs. “People who are together long enough start to act and sound alike, and people mistake him for my brother all of the time.”
Details lovingly preserved
From the moment visitors step into the main entryway, the attention to detail is stunningly evident. The doorknobs on the front door feature a woven bamboo design, while the green-tiled fireplace mantle exudes a colorful warmth. To the left is the parlor, where guests may relax and browse one of the photo albums documenting the inn’s restoration in photographs, or a coffee table book on Kansas City’s history. In front of the parlor window sits an old Victrola, a gift from a longtime friend. To the left of the entryway is the dining room, its focal point a large crystal chandelier that hangs over the table where guests may enjoy breakfast prepared by Zweifler or one of his friends.
Guests may choose from one of four different rooms, each with its own different look and accents. The Carriage House, surrounded by an award-winning garden, boasts a two-bedroom suite, a gathering room, a kitchenette, and a shared bathroom with a large, tiled shower.
In the main house, on the second floor, the “Room with a View” overlooks Gladstone Boulevard. The room is decorated with a queen-sized bed, as well as a variety of boutique furniture and antiques accumulated over Zweifler’s lifetime as a collector. The room includes a private bathroom.
The inn’s website describes the “Rose Room” as akin to “a trip to the English countryside,” complete with a canopy bed, lace curtains, and a screened-in sun porch. Zweifler says guests can leave the door leading to the sun porch open on a quiet night and listen to the babbling fountain in the garden below. One of the more notable features of this room is the original 1888 bathroom, which includes a marble sink and the home’s original claw-foot bathtub.
The last room, “Emeline’s Room,” is an homage to the original matriarch of the house. Decorated with plenty of Victorian style, the room includes an adjoining bath.
“I want to move in!”
It is this distinctly Victorian influence that Zweifler says he hopes his guests particularly enjoy.
“History isn’t any good unless people of the next generation appreciate it,” he says. “Oddly enough, the preservation (of an old house) was against the philosophy of the Victorian period. During the time Queen Victoria reigned over England, things changed. More things were invented, more lives were altered than at any other point in history. The Victorians loved new and modern. To take someone’s house and freeze it in a year is against what they believed.”
True as that might be, the inn has been suspended in time, and it’s exactly what brings guests back time and again.
“(Guests) walk in the front door, and they’re blown away by the stenciling, and the fireplace, and the archway,” Zweifler says. “They say, ‘Oh, this is so beautiful! I want to move in!’ My response is always, ‘Well, we can work out a rental agreement,’” he jokes.
The guests who check into the bed and breakfast come from as close as across the state line to across the pond, Zweifler notes. At least one of them, like Zweifler and Markus, sees the great potential of Gladstone Boulevard to continue its growth.
“They come from 15 miles away in order to get away from their children,” he laughs. “And we have one repeat customer, who is with an investment firm, from Quebec, Canada. Kansas City is on the firm’s radar because of the streetcar. They come to Kansas City to renovate houses and sell them – in Kansas City and in this neighborhood, in particular.”
Zweifler says he hopes the streetcar hastens the neighborhood’s renaissance as well.
“We hope phase two of the streetcar will come down Independence Avenue, which would skyrocket this back into the respectable neighborhood it was,” (the inn’s website notes that the neighborhood’s status as ‘the place to be’ began to decline rapidly with the building of Ward Parkway in the early 20th century). “We’d get a whole new clientele.
“That’s what we’re all about. We want people to move to the neighborhood and know what the Victorians knew. You have neighbors, not just people who live next door. You have big front porches where people sit in the summertime, where people play music and talk together.”
Neighborhood embraces fun, safe holiday for all
The neighborhood has already taken strides to promote the friendly and hospitable nature of those who live there. One community outreach project that has gained recent popularity is the neighborhood’s “Safe Halloween” festivities, sponsored by Gladstone’s neighborhood association.
“All houses pass out candy to kids who normally don’t have a place to go for Halloween,” Zweifler explains. “We had 8,000 kids last year. They can just walk up to the front doors and get candy, and many people put up huge decorations for Halloween. It’s like a Disneyland for Halloween, and it’s for kids who can’t get this anyplace else.”
The Inn at 425 is one of those many houses that one will find festooned with decorations during the fall, of course.
“And at Christmas, we have three or four large Christmas trees, and Santas and wreaths everywhere. The outside of the house is lit,” says Zweifler. “But we like to start (decorating) with fall, because that introduces you into Christmas.”
Again, Zweifler emphasizes, it took a long time to get the house prepared for the transformation from crumbling to cozy. Most people who would buy such a house might be excited to put up wall paper and hang lace curtains – that’s the fun part, after all – but few may realize the elbow grease and determination that one must invest in such a venture.
And then there’s the money
“The biggest mistake that people make is, they find a beautiful old house that needs a restoration, and they take out a huge loan to pay for the restoration,” Zweifler explains. “And then they expect to make enough money to pay for the first and second mortgage. It doesn’t work that way. This is a cottage industry. Even if you have 70 percent occupancy, it still isn’t going to be enough money. That’s why this has taken 20 years. We did each thing as we could afford it.”
Just a harmless apparition
If that isn’t enough to ponder for someone in the market for opening a bed and breakfast, there’s always the possibility of the occasional highly unique guest. In the case of the Inn at 425, it’s Emeline Twiss, who has been dead for more than a century.
Zweifler opens a photo album sitting on the parlor’s coffee table. Nestled between the images of brick work being done is a photo of the silhouette of a woman ascending the staircase. Look at the image hard enough and you’ll see her hair is swept up, and she wears dangling earrings. A shawl is draped around her shoulders.
“One of my friends is terrified at the prospect of meeting Emeline. When she visits, I will go into the room and say, “Emeline, Suzie is coming to visit. Please, please leave her alone. Inevitably, she does, but she will come to the third floor and wake me up,” he chuckles.
Any challenges aside, Zweifler says he and Markus are proud that the inn has become a part of the changing face of Gladstone Boulevard and the metro area, too. The inn is but a microcosm of the city itself.
“Kansas City is the biggest surprise (our guests) will ever have. The parks, the greenery, the kindness and sophistication of the people who live here,” he says. “We have a lot of guests who call the inn their Kansas City home.”
Visit Inn at 425 for more information, or call (913) 579-5915.
Words: Corbin Crable | Photos: Silas Cook
Corbin Crable’s love of antiques and vintage decor sometimes makes him feel as if he should have lived during the Victorian period as well. You can email him at email@example.com.