Growing up, Fred Wolferman always wanted to be a physician. His father, Louis, a German immigrant who spoke very little English, had other plans for Fred. In 1888, Louis borrowed $750 against his home and started a grocery store at 9th and Oak streets. But it was when Fred bought a farm (located at the then rural area around 97th Street and Holmes Road) to supply the store with fresh food that the meteoric rise of Wolferman’s began. Under the banner of “Good Things to Eat,” Fred Wolferman proved to be a brilliant, innovative grocer and businessman. Wolferman’s produced its own farm-fresh, high-quality food to sell in the stores, and he created the first home delivery of groceries—very popular with the well-to-do. By the early 1900s, several Wolferman’s stores had opened, strategically placed close to bus and streetcar stops, including a store near a cornfield in Brookside and a signature Plaza location. Wolferman developed and manufactured many in-house specialty food items—salad dressings, homemade sausages, candy, roasted coffees, blended teas and breads—the most famous being the oversized Wolferman’s English muffin, the shape derived from a tuna can. Wolferman’s was known for premium foods of exceptional quality and for superb customer service. It was a winning combination for Kansas City. As the business flourished, it was time to build a home that reflected his success and accomplishments. In 1920 he purchased a prime five-acre lot in the Country Club District and began his search for an architect.
Canadians Thomas and William Wight studied architecture in Canada, then moved to New York to work for one of the era’s most prestigious firms—McKim, Meade and White—before opening their own firm in Kansas City in the early 1900s. They chose Kansas City because it was still architecturally young and undeveloped, knowing they could influence and shape the design and landscape of this rapidly growing city. And make their mark they did. Known for beaux-arts style incorporating neoclassical elements and symmetry, Wight and Wight created some of the finest and most enduring buildings in town, including the Kansas City Life Insurance Building, the First National Bank Building (now the Central Library), the Jackson County Courthouse, the 30-story City Hall, the Police Headquarters Building, the Pickwick Hotel, the approaches to the Liberty Memorial and most importantly, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s main building, noted nationally for its strength, beauty and classicism. Despite their voluminous productivity, Wight and Wight designed very few private residences and then only for close friends. The brothers knew Fred Wolferman and his family well, having shopped at his stores for many years. They quickly agreed to design a proper home for a man of his stature.
LET FRIENDS FOREGATHER
The huge, rambling English Tudor-style residence designed by Wight and Wight emphasized the central themes of Fred Wolferman’s life: family, friends and food. Built around an inverted “J” pattern, the exposed wood beam, patterned brick, cut stone and stucco exterior with deep gabled porches is matched only by the stately, highly detailed interior consisting of intricately carved wood paneling replete with English rose, thistle and acorn motifs, coved ceilings and wide quarter-sawn red oak floors with walnut strips between the planks.
The Hare & Hare-designed landscape plan epitomized early 20th-century indoor-outdoor living, featuring one of the city’s first private lagoon pools, complete with a two-story bathhouse (since demolished).
Wolferman’s friendly, welcoming “voice” remains throughout the residence, with “None come too early, none stay too late” carved in the wood timber above the massive entrance door and the words “Is’t a time to talk when we should be munching” fired into the original leaded-glass casement windows in the small informal dining room.
In the living room, the expression “In my light and warmth may friends foregather, 1924” is hand carved into the beautiful fireplace mantel. Wolferman’s stores always had a warm feeling of generous hospitality, and not surprisingly, that sentiment was incorporated into this architectural masterpiece of home and hearth.
A few distinguished Kansas City families have subsequently owned the Wolferman residence, including the Brimacones, who invented and manufactured egg cartons, and Crosby and Bebe Kemper. However, the family lineage of its current owners is most interesting. The couple happened upon an open house of the Wolferman residence more than a decade ago with no real intent to buy, but after a personal tour, both were enraptured with the house, and as they peered out of the handsome living room leaded-glass doors, a heavy snowfall of the largest, pure white flakes had begun, which they viewed as a sign to make the house their own.
A few months after moving into the residence, a cousin remembered that their grandparents had once owned land in the area, researched the plat map and family documents only to discover that the original land that Fred Wolferman bought was the same land the grandparents had once owned. Even more coincidental was the discovery of original color sketches their grandparents had commissioned of a tudor manor they had planned to build but never did, which are strikingly similar to the Wight and Wight-designed home.
Having come full circle with the original family owning the property once again, the Wolferman residence stands in remarkably original condition as a wonderful testament to architectural integrity and family tradition in our city.