On the Market: A Mid Mod Dream in Yukon
by Lynne Rostochil. Vintage photos credited below, current-day photos of house by Lynne Rostochil
As soon as Courtney Manning announced on our Facebook page that this beauty in Yukon was for sale, a flurry of effusive posts began, all of them extolling the many virtues of the flagstone house in the woods along Garth Brooks Boulevard. Many Squadders decided to make the trek west of town that weekend to tour a home so many of us have admired for years — thanks to all, especially Branson Young, for posting such great photos of the house for all to see. Hopefully, someone will see those images or read this blog and decide that Yukon isn’t so far out and this house is well worth preserving.
Aside from being quite the stunner, even in its less than stellar state, this home has quite an impressive pedigree and has been featured in numerous publications.
This beautiful abode was the brain child of architect Richard Kuhlman. Not long after receiving his Master’s Degree from Harvard and practicing for a couple of years in his home state of Texas, Kuhlman left the Lone Star State for good to teach architecture at OU in 1946. These were the heady years at the university, with Bruce Goff leading the department and students from all over the country flocking to Norman to study with the master and his colleagues. Somewhere along the way Kuhlman and Dr. D.S. “Doc” Harris met up and became fast friends. Harris was a dentist in far away Yukon, a farming community located along Route 66 about 16 miles west of downtown OKC and, by 1947, he was ready to build a home for his growing family. Kuhlman’s innovative design for the dentist’s new home would be among the Metro’s first examples of post-war residential modernism, with Goff’s Ledbetter House in Norman predating it by just a few months.
The two bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house on a heavily wooded lot out in the country (then, anyway) was a stunner from the moment it was completed and drew curious onlookers and admirers from all over. All of the buzz attracted internationally renowned architectural photographer Maynard Parker to the home, as well as Life photographer (and OKC resident) A.Y. Owen. I haven’t been able to find Owen’s photos of the Harris House, which appeared in the long-defunct Holland’s magazine in 1953, but several of Parker’s images were featured in issues of both House Beautiful and House + Home:
After it was completed, the Harris House became the hub of activity in Yukon. The dentist and Kuhlman shared a passion for racing their MGs — Harris owned a TD MkII like this one (photo from Wikipedia):
Harris’s large front yard was the perfect place for the Oklahoma Region of the Sports Car Club of America to meet, gawk at each other’s cars, and plan the club’s upcoming races. Here is Harris with a pal and his beloved car in front of the house:
I’ve found a hilarious account of some of the races the club put on in the early ’50s — this was definitely a fun group of people who shared all kinds of pranks and adventures along the Sooner State’s back roads and it’s well worth reading about their antics.
Also, I have the House + Home issue that includes Parker’s images of Kuhlman’s creation, along with an article explaining how brilliantly air flows through the house in the days of air conditioning’s infancy. Here’s the article:
Last summer when the outdoor temperature of Yukon, Oklahoma was a scorching 105 degrees the indoor temperature of this house — without air conditioning — was only 85 degrees. This spectacular performance is based on the fact that Architect Richard Kuhlman designed the house to work with the climate instead of against it. A house like this which makes its own climate demonstrates two major points to architects and builders:
1. a hot-climate house without air conditioning can be kept reasonably cool if it is designed right;
2. an air-conditioned house can be cooled cheaper and more efficiently if the designer uses climatewise ideas.
Architect Kuhlman uses a whole bag of tricks, some as old as the Bible, some as new as tomorrow. Oldest trick: leave a hole in the roof to let the hot air escape and to create a flue action — a principle still used in hotels and houses in the tropics that are built around an open court. Drawings (below) illustrate other ideas, including a venturi blow-through, air scoops, a ventilated roof and even a make-it-yourself breeze.
Wind control, both winter and summer, is a key element in design and siting. The facade faces northwest and is almost closed to keep off winter winds. Trees shade house and pleasant summer breezes blow through the wide-open plan.
Ventilated roof is of prime importance in keeping house cool. Air space between roof and joists is ventilated, which is an important cooling device whether a house is air conditioned or not. A series of louvers keeps air moving along ceilings. Heat is reflected from roof’s surface. A third important factor: insulation.
Opened up house all summer is kept by owner, Dr. D.S. Harris, because he has 65′ of wall wide open to pleasant summer breezes. The design of his house embodies what aeronautical engineers call the venturi principle: taking air in through big openings and funneling it out through small openings speeds up air movement, gets more cooling value out of mild breezes.
The Harris home has been called the only house in town with a breeze because it is so designed and located that it actually creates a breeze where apparently none had existed. How such a breeze operates is well-known to pilots of motorless sailplanes or gliders, whose success in soaring depends on finding rising currents of air. It would be no surprise to them that on summer afternoons as the hot air in the Harris house rises through the roof opening, it is replaced by cooler air that flows in from a shaded area of the lawn, as this drawing illustrates:
In summer wind control consists of shutting off the hot southwest breezes but in welcoming the cooler winds from the southeast, which flow through the open house (as shown above). Ground slopes up from the left to the right, and angle at which the roof meets the breeze acts as an air scoop. Descending roof helps to squeeze the wind through the house, speeding it up through roof and window openings.
Lessons for the air-conditioned house
At first glance there may seem to be no design lessons here for the architect of an air-conditioned house, whose purpose is to shut out all outside air. But the owner of many an air-conditioned house would be happy if he could operate his equipment for two months of summer rather than four and if it ran for fewer hours per day during the hot weather. Architect Kuhlman shows him how to do it.
A house designed properly for its climate, as this one is, would use mechanical cooling for fewer days per summer: starting later in the spring and shutting down earlier in the autumn. This house also shows the benefits of utilizing trees for shading the house, for cooling surrounding areas and for creating cool breezes. Of great importance also is the ventilated roof which demonstrates one way of creating an air space through which natural ventilation can flow.
“Believe it or not” feature of this house is the way it creates a breeze when none exists. As hot air rises through the roof opening, it creates a suction and hot air is replaced by ground-level air that has been cooled by trees and shady lawn. Houses with open courts and roof ventilation are common in tropical countries.
Included in this article are several photos with captions that I’ll contrast with “now” images of the same spaces that I took during the open house a couple of weeks ago — captions from the magazine are in italics below each set of images:
House is expandable in summer when big glass walls are shoved back into pockets and living room is furnished to include the garden room (far left). Sloping ceiling results from fact that house is built on two levels which follow the contours of the land. The bedroom wing (to the left of the rooms shown here) is several feet higher than the rest of the house and is reached by means of a ramp.
Open planning not only opens the house visually but is important in letting summer breezes blow through. Yet in winter, garden and garden room can be shut off.
Living room, as seen from study, with garden room beyond. Large rooms and the open plan suit the Harris family, who have entertained as many as 80 people in comfort.
Botanical proof that this house constitutes a cool oasis in the midst of a hot Oklahoma climate is that these plants thrive here. Water alone would not make such plants grow as cladium, fern, decentra, alocasia, fig and ginger. Hot air rising through openings in roof helps draw in cooler air from outside.
For those of you who recently toured this house, you know that its a crazy mish mash of odd additions, making it difficult to figure out the original footprint of the house. Thanks to this article, here it is:
Where there’s now a crazy, windowless and horribly panelled room in the middle of the house, there was once an open courtyard, which means that the clerestory windows in the original bedroom and along the ramped hallway between the living and bedroom areas now makes a lot of sense:
The Harris family lived in the home for several years, then another family lived here for a long time, too. At some point, a pool was built, which ensured that teens from all over Yukon showed up to cool off and hang out on long summer days. Sadly, the pool was filled in and weeds now grow where water once flowed:
From the yucky panelling in the once-courtyard-now-middle-bedroom, it looks like the second owners did the additions in the ’70s, which included converting the giant utility room into an odd bathroom/closet area…
… converting the carport into a master bedroom or den area…
… and revamping the entrance to the house:
While these unfortunate additions do detract from the house, the rest of it is in beautiful original condition, including the original master bedroom with exposed flagstone wall…
… the opening living/dining areas…
… and original lighting fixtures:
The house makes an appearance in another publication from 1980, a book called Oklahoma Homes Past and Present by Charles R. Goins and John W. Morris. A photo of the house taken by Kuhlman is shown (with a current view below it):
While the authors incorrectly state that the home was built in 1954, they do comment on the home’s brilliant design that reduces the need for air conditioning. For those of you who have visited the house, do you notice that the funky metal screen shielding the outdoor fireplace isn’t in the above vintage shot? It must have been added at some point, but it’s certainly not original. How great is it, though?
UPDATE: Well, I guess I’m blind because Matt saw the screen in the vintage photo immediately and pointed it out to me. So, it is original after all!
Here are two more shots I took of the garden area, which was completely enclosed at some point:
Almost all of the windows that close off the garden area are cracked or broken. If I were to buy this delightful house, I’d return this space to its original state and just screen in the windows and get that air flowing through the house again.
And that wall of giant sliders from the common areas to the garden? Well, I imagine this is the company that made them:
These sliders, which are still much coveted in today’s homes, couldn’t have been very common back in 1948 when the Harris House was built. In fact, I’ve never been in a mid-century modern house where these sliders have been in place. Have you?
The house that was once way out in the country now sits along busy Garth Brooks Boulevard, but, because it’s nestled back from the street, the house is surprisingly quiet and patiently awaits its next owner, who — fingers crossed — will see the gem underneath the cobwebs and bad add-ons and want to restore the Harris House to its original glory. It’s certainly worth preserving.
The home and the surrounding acre of land is selling for $195,000 in as-is condition. Contact the owner at 350-4000 x309 if you’re interesting in saving this beautiful property.
UPDATE 7/22/2015: The house now has a realtor, Sheri Tredway. Go here to see more photos and to contact her if you’d like to tour the home.