26 Rooms Riv Vu
July 28, 1939
Deane W. Malott has often been called the “chancellor of firsts,” with good reason. He was the first native Kansan and first KU alumnus to lead the University, and the first to possess substantial business experience.
There is another, less well known, albeit decidedly domestic first that Malott can also claim. He, his wife Eleanor, and their three children were the first “first family” of Mount Oread to occupy the spacious Neo-Classical Revival-style manor known as “The Outlook” that has served as the official KU chancellor’s residence since 1939.
Appropriately enough, that was the very year Malott moved in, right after being named the University’s eighth chancellor, a position he would hold until 1951. KU’s ability to offer its new chief executive such a home – indeed “one of Kansas’ most luxurious and best equipped mansions,” according to a somewhat gushing article in the July 28, 1939, edition of the Summer Session Kansan – was due to the boundless generosity of Elizabeth Miller Watkins, KU’s “Lady Bountiful” and longtime benefactress whose affection for the University extended even beyond her death.
As the Kansan article noted, “the magnificent colonial home has long been a University of Kansas campus landmark.” It was built in 1912 for Jabez B. Watkins, a Lawrence banker, landowner, and financier, shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth, his former secretary. The Outlook became her sole preserve following his death in 1921.
Until her passing in June 1939, Elizabeth Watkins spent many mornings and afternoons on her spacious and welcoming front porch, waving and smiling at the young people of KU, whom she grew to love as surrogate children, having none of her own. She regularly invited women faculty and students for tea.
Over the years, she also had dispensed a major portion of her fortune to KU and the Lawrence community. On campus, she donated money for two women’s scholarship halls (Miller and Watkins), a student hospital, a nurses’ home, and countless other acts of charity benefiting KU and many of it students. In the town, she gave Lawrence the building that served as city hall for many years (present-day Watkins Community Museum of History) as well as the funding for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Thus, it was hardly surprising that, on her death, Watkins would also will her mansion to the University for use as the chancellor’s residence.
The Outlook was the second official chancellor’s residence at KU. The first, at 1345 Louisiana, was built with a portion of the 1891 bequest of $91,618 by William B. Spooner, a successful Boston leather merchant and philanthropist who was also an uncle of Francis Huntington Snow, one of KU’s original three faculty members and the University’s fifth chancellor.
The bulk of Spooner’s bequest, roughly $80,000, had gone to construct KU’s first freestanding library – present-day Spooner Hall – but the remainder was used to build a proper chancellor’s residence. This stately two-story brick house was designed by noted Kansas City architect Henry van Brunt, who also designed Spooner Hall. Snow and his family moved into the new house in December 1893. Following Snow’s resignation in 1901, the house was also home to chancellors Frank Strong and Ernest H. Lindley. (Prior to the construction of 1345 Louisiana, KU chancellors maintained their own residences off campus.)
Less than a month before Lindley’s resignation became official on June 30, 1939, Elizabeth Watkins succumbed to a heart attack following a lengthy illness. The formal reading of her will on June 5 revealed a veritable windfall for the University. She left endowed funds totaling more than $400,000 to support the Watkins and Miller Scholarship Halls and the Watkins Memorial Hospital; transferred approximately 25,000 acres of southwestern Kansas farmland to the KU Endowment Association; and willed her home, The Outlook, at 1532 Lilac Lane to the University with the intention that it would become the permanent chancellor’s residence. (According to a number of sources, she and her husband had long planned to give their home to KU upon both their deaths.) All told, Mrs. Watkins gave almost $2 million to the University over the years in cash and property, an amount that, in present-day dollars, easily exceeds $25 million.
In the meantime, KU had already found Chancellor Lindley’s successor. He was Harvard Business School professor and Abilene native Deane W. Malott, to whom the Regents offered the position on April 10, 1939. Malott accepted. Between his nomination in April and the death of Mrs. Watkins in June, the incoming chancellor likely saw (perhaps even visited) The Outlook; little did he know that it soon would become his home.
Architect W.J. Mitchell designed the 26-room, three-story, 6,000 square foot-plus mansion with Neo-Classical Revival lines in a style that has been called “Prairie Newport.” It features a distinctive green clay-tile roof, white stucco walls, Ionic portico and wraparound porches. Tucked away in the southeast corner of campus, The Outlook, as its name implies, commands views of the Wakarusa and Kansas River valleys.
The land on which the venerable home rests is inextricably linked to Kansas history. The property, like much of present-day KU, originally belonged to Charles and Sara Robinson, both of whom played leading roles in the establishment of Lawrence and the ultimately successful effort to bring Kansas into the Union as a free state. (He was an agent of the New England Emigrant Aid Company and went on to become the state’s first governor; she wrote influential books and articles about the “Bleeding Kansas” period, and served as the first “first lady” of the state.)
Prior to the Malotts’ arrival in August, the University undertook a rushed renovation program to make the residence ready for immediate occupancy, using an additional $5,000 Watkins grant intended for repairs and furnishings. “Luxurious Home Is Awaiting Malott’s Return,” read the headline from the July 28, 1939, edition of the Summer Session Kansan. “Late Mrs. Watkins’ Home Undergoing Renovation; House and Grounds Will Become Part of Campus,” added the explanatory subhead. The paper then went on to describe the abundant amenities awaiting The Outlook’s new residents.
On the first floor (to be used for University entertaining and assorted official functions) the Malotts would gain use of five main rooms, including a dining room, two living rooms, a sun porch, and a kitchen. Their private quarters on the second floor, reported the Kansan, consisted of a study, a living room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and another sun porch. And from the third floor, they would gain entrance to a widow’s walk, an eclectic architectural feature more commonly found in the houses of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New England sea captains.
Among the most arresting and prominent features of The Outlook are, of course, the many verandas. “Large screened porches, open porches and terraces will furnish plenty of space for outside living by the Chancellor and his family,” observed the Kansan. It also highlighted the mansion’s seven fireplaces and assured the chancellor’s wife that she “won’t be able to make the usual complaint of housekeepers that there never is enough closet space, for the Chancellor’s house has 17 closets.” On their arrival, the Malotts could also expect the most modern conveniences, including electric refrigerators and a central air-conditioning system.
One thing, however, that was sorely lacking was furniture. Mrs. Watkins had left an exquisite oriental rug, one couch and a single large hall mirror to the University; the rest of the mansion’s furniture went to friends and distant relatives. The University used her $5,000 grant to purchase additional furniture for the public downstairs part of the home; but the Malotts were left to fill the private upstairs with their own furnishings. (That is much the same today: the University maintains the first floor, used for official functions, and allows each chancellor’s family to arrange the second as they see fit.) Rounding out the interior space were loans of some artwork and assorted decorative and ceramic pieces to be displayed on the mansion’s first floor from KU’s Spooner-Thayer Art Museum (predecessor to the present-day Spencer Museum of Art).
The Malotts were also left to their own creativity in the landscaping area. According to one University publication, until further provisions could be made, Mrs. Malott and campus workers “bargain-hunted for shrubs and began beautifying the grounds”; and through her efforts over the years, The Outlook’s grounds – as well as much of the rest of the campus – benefited from a major beautification program. (In the 1940s, peach trees and a “Victory Garden” also were planted to help the war effort. A Japanese maple planted outside the mansion’s kitchen window at this time has grown into one of the largest specimens in eastern Kansas.)
Since the Malotts, The Outlook has been home to nearly every KU chancellor and his family. (Raymond Nichols, a longtime KU executive who began a term as acting chancellor following the resignation of Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers in 1972, and was later named chancellor, did not move into the residence during his brief tenure. Delbert Shankel did live in the residence during his first stint as acting chancellor in 1980-81; upon his second appointment as interim chancellor and then chancellor in 1994-95, the Regents excused him from living there.) At times, the building’s seven-room basement also provided living quarters for male scholarship students who worked on the mansion’s grounds, and in the 1960s, The Outlook’s third floor was home to the mother-in-law of Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe.
The original chancellor’s residence at 1345 Louisiana no longer exists. After losing its official role to The Outlook in 1939, it became a scholarship residence hall, first for men and then for women. It was named Carruth Hall after former Alumni Association president and longtime languages professor William H. Carruth. In 1953, the 60-year-old building was declared structurally unsound. The cost of renovation was considered too great, and the house was demolished that year. In its place rose Douthart Hall, a women’s scholarship hall. The name Carruth, however, was not forgotten: the appellation was transferred to Carruth-O’Leary Hall on West Campus Road, once a dormitory and now an administrative building.
All indications are that the fate that befell KU’s original chancellor’s residence will not touch the current one. Periodic renovations and restorations, along with the ongoing care and maintenance given to the mansion, would seem to ensure that the outlook for The Outlook’s continued existence will remain positive.
John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas
For the gift of William B. Spooner, which made possible the construction of Spooner Hall and the original chancellor’s residence, see “Spooner or Later” at: http://www.kuhistory.com/proto/story.asp?id=21
See also the Spooner Hall Building File in University Archives. Of particular interest are the following: Courier-Review, October 18, 1894, pp. 13-18; University Courier, April 13, 1893; and Kansas Alumni (October 1979), p. 14 & (October-November 1994), pp. 4, 19-22.
For the administration of Chancellor Ernest H. Lindley, see “State of Confusion” in This Week In KU History at: http://www.kuhistory.com/proto/story.asp?id=37
The passing of Mrs. Watkins was covered in great detail by the Lawrence and KU press, which focused heavily on her long history of philanthropy. For a quick sketch of her charitable giving, see the article in the June 1939 edition of the Graduate Magazine, pp. 11-12, titled “University’s Greatest Bequest Comes in Will of Elizabeth Miller Watkins,” not only a eulogy to the benefactress but also a chronicle of her many bequests to the University.
Numerous informational and promotional pamphlets in The Outlook Building File provide information on the home’s layout. The author wishes to thank staff members of the KU Office of Design and Construction Management for their assistance in filling gaps, especially concerning the University’s responsibility for furnishing the home and its history of making periodic repairs and renovations.
For the anecdote about Chancellor Wescoe’s mother-in-law taking up residence, see the University Daily Kansan, November 9, 1976, pp. 1, 7, “Double Duty for KU White House.
As to what became of the original chancellor’s residence at 1345 Louisiana and how the so-called “Men from Indiana” moved in, see particularly the Summer Session Kansan, August 1, 1939, p. 1, article titled “Chancellors’ Old Home To Semi-Organized Group.” For a short history of the residence, see the University Daily Kansan, November 7, 1924, p. 1, article titled “Chancellor’s Home Has Unique History.” For detailed information about the impending demolition of this home and its long history, see a newspaper article titled “Lawrence Soon to Lose a Traditional Home that is a Familiar Landmark,” found in the 1953 folder of the Chancellor’s Residence (New) file.
Also useful are Clifford Griffin, The University of Kansas: A History, (University Press of Kansas, 1974), pp. 421-443, and Robert Taft, The Years on Mount Oread, (University of Kansas Press, 1955), pp. 59, 105, 149.]