They call it the valentine house.
That’s because Valentine’s Day was the day Larissa and Kris Munsch decided to buy the old run-down wood-frame house on the northwest corner of 13th and Walnut streets.
On Friday they recalled how Larissa for two years lobbied Kris to call the owner, Dan Hess.
“Seriously, every single time we drove by, she wore me down,” laughed Kris, noting Hess considered demolishing it to build apartments. “Finally I called Dan on Valentine’s Day.”
“All I could see was the potential,” recalled Larissa. “That wrap-around porch will be beautiful.”
“So he sold it to us,” Kris said.
“Now it’s our mess,” she said. “I want to save it.”
“Some girls want flowers, some want chocolate, some girls want a fancy dinner,” said Kris. “Nope, she wants a house that’s falling down.”
The valentine property is their most recent old-house purchase in Hays, where the couple has earned a name for buying historic homes and fixing them up.
Some of the properties need more work than others, they explained.
Take, for example, the newly purchased historic limestone house at 601 Oak. One of the earliest homes in Hays, and named for John Schlyer, the son of German immigrants who built it in 1894, the house had been on the market for sale off and on for a number of years.
While the valentine house will need work from top-to-bottom, the Schlyer house could be done in a month.
“For us, this is a very easy project,” Larissa said Friday in the parlor of the Schlyer house.
“This is minor,” agreed Kris. “Because we’ve done everything in here before.”
“We’ve gotten houses,” they said in unison, “that were waaaaaay worse.”
“I think the best comparison,” said Kris, “this would be like finding a 1980s Cutlass. You’re just changing the tires, cleaning up the windows, and maybe you have to change out the dash because it’s cracked. Where some houses we’ve bought, it’s like dragging a 1910 Model T out of a creek bed.”
That would be the valentine house, they laughed.
“It’s bad,” Larissa admitted.
The three-bedroom house has one and a half stories, and the owner from the 1970s until recently did little to alter it.
“When you redo a really bad car, you always say you take the radiator cap off and drive a new one under it, and put the cap back on,” Kris said. “This is like we’re going to take the door knob off and save it, and just pull a new house on the lot and put the door knob back on.”
There is no telling when it will be done, but Larissa says she’d like to resell it afterward.
“We’re getting too big a collection of houses,” Kris agreed.
Counting them up, they figure they have maybe 12 or 13 now.
Larissa and Kris have been working on both houses during the pandemic, particularly as classes have moved online at Fort Hays State University, where Kris is an assistant professor in the Center for Applied Technology.
On Friday, Kris started out at their 1908 house on W. 27th Street, which they moved into in March 2019 from Ness City. He joined Larissa at the Schlyer house, where she had been eyeing the pine floor in a bedroom that will need refinishing.
The Schlyer house in recent decades was saved by former owner Bonnie Storm, who grew up in the house, and then later Larry Rupp, the Hays native Storm hired to fix it up. Rupp, a house painter and craftsman, also owned it, and sold it, then bought it again, and ultimately devoted himself to a second restoration before he died in April 2019.
“If not for Larry Rupp, this house would not be here,” Kris said. “He’s the one that saved it.”
It was originally all limestone with walls nearly 2 feet thick, then later a traditional wood-frame addition was added onto the back in the 1920s or 1930s.
Now a 2,000-square-foot home, the house has two living spaces: two bedrooms and a kitchen on the main floor, and the same upstairs.
“I think the main reason we wanted to have it was we just couldn’t imagine anyone else having it,” Kris said.
“I love that there’s still a lot original, and that Larry did a good job of bringing it back, like this front door, it’s original,” Larissa said. “The trim, and he restored the windows back. The floors are original. It also had a lot of good bones to work with. It’s a very solid house. And I just love saving history and I love sharing history with people.”
They’ll use it as a bed-and-breakfast vacation rental, calling it the Buffalo Haus, Larissa said. Guests might be parents visiting their students at Fort Hays, or out-of-owners coming for games, or travelers stopping midway between Kansas City and Denver.
“I love the idea of people stopping in to enjoy the space, but they’ll get to learn about the history,” she said. “This will be an Airbnb eventually.”
Despite the official-looking placard out front in the yard, the house is not on the National Register of Historic Places.
And it will stay pretty much the way it is now.
Rupp did a lot of work to modernize and restore parts of the house. The Munsches are adding some fresh paint, refinishing some floors, cleaning and repairing wallpaper that Rupp installed, adding support beams, and installing central heating and air conditioning. They’ll keep changes to the floor plan that Rupp made to give it some bigger and more useful spaces, as well as the original dirt floor in the basement, the era-appropriate wallpaper, and the hot water heater and cast-iron radiators.
“Larissa’s motto is ‘do no harm,’ and that means keeping the original character,” Kris said. “You can modernize and make it livable for today, but by keeping the original character.”
There’s a balance between renovation and restoration, Kris said they’ve learned.
“There are some parts of this house that we’re restoring, but there are a lot of aspects of this house we’re renovating,” he explained.
“We’re rehabilitating,” Larissa said. “If we were truly restoring this house, we would have knocked out what Larry did, and we would put it back exactly as it used to be. To us, this isn’t going to be a museum.”
Some things can’t be fixed right away, like replacing the multicolor 1970s-style windows with hard-to-find wood frame windows that fit. Kris says they will probably hold an open house when it’s done.
Meanwhile, they’ll rotate work on the numerous projects they have underway, including an old Jeep they hauled back from Wyoming.
“Another project,” Kris laughed.
“That we don’t have time for,” Larissa added.
“She was like, ‘why do you want it?’ ” Kris explained. “I go, ‘because it doesn’t run anymore.’ ”