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For the first time, Landmark Society honors Mid-century Modern home

By Howard B. Owens

Story by Diana Kasten. Photos by Howard Owens.

Landmark Society of Genesee County Award
9091 Creek Road, Town of Batavia
Tender Loving Care

You can probably count, on one hand, the number of octogenarian Word War II veterans in Genesee County, who not only designed but also still reside in the same home they built during the post-war era. At least one of them would be Henry John Kisiel of Creek Road in the Town of Batavia. 

Mr. Kisiel’s Mid-century Modern home is an architectural gem exhibiting many of the elements of the ranch or rambler houses that were from 1946 into the 1960s.

Henry served in the Navy during World War II in the Pacific on the aircraft carrier USS Cape Esperance. He returned from the war to his beloved Batavia and married his sweetheart Lois Ruth Quartley. 

As newlyweds living on Washington Avenue in Batavia, they began their family in a tiny second-floor apartment. 

In the early 1950s, Henry and Lois began to dream about building their own home. Henry purchased a lot on Creek Road from his cousin, which was originally part of their grandparents’ farm. 

He then began to draft the plans for his dream home. 

Henry and Lois wanted a modern ranch or rambler with everything on their wish list. 

During this mid-20th-Century period of American architecture, ranches and ramblers were popping up all over the country. There were many prototypes to choose from, so Henry took some ideas from the ranches he had seen and incorporated some of his own innovative design elements.

Building a home as newlyweds was not such an easy feat, especially for a young couple with no credit or savings, but what they did have was a desire and determination to work hard and make their dream a reality. 

It took more than three years to build the home to their specifications. Henry enlisted the help of his family and friends. However, he needed to convince people in the business and financial community to take a chance on him. People could see he was an eager and hard-working young man who had served his country in war and safely returned to make a home for his wife and their new family.

The first thing he had to do was get the forms built for the foundation and basement of the house and pour the concrete. He went to the bank and asked to borrow some money to begin the project. The bank was only willing to let him borrow $2,500 at the time. He needed concrete so he placed a call to B.R. DeWitt, whom he barely knew, and told him about his plans. 

He asked Mr. DeWitt if he could purchase the cement from his company, but he would not be able to pay him all at once. However, he could pay $100 per month until it was paid off. Henry asked if he could come speak with him and B.R. said he could come over that afternoon and bring his plans. 

After looking at the drawings, Mr. DeWitt agreed to the payment plan and Henry’s dream began to become a reality. Mr. Kisiel then went to Genesee Lumber and was able to arrange with them to supply the lumber, also on a payment plan. Within a year, Mr. Kisiel had paid off the money owed to Mr. DeWitt, Genesee Lumber and the bank. However, he still needed more money to finish the house. 

He ran into B.R. DeWitt at Angie’s Restaurant on Ellicott Street and B.R. asked him how the house was coming, Henry said he needed more cement for the driveway and could he get the same arrangement as before. Mr. DeWitt agreed as he had honored his previous commitment and supplied him with the cement. 

He also went back to Genesee Lumber for the framing and floors for another year’s worth of lumber. The bank loaned him another $2,500 to continue work on the home for the second year. 

In the third year, the windows needed to be installed and Mr. Kisiel went to Mr. Atwater at the bank for another $2,500 loan to order the windows. Mr. Atwater wanted to come out with other bank officers to see the project before loaning the money. Upon seeing the home, Mr. Atwater said forget about the $2,500, we will loan you $15,000 to continue the building and another $4,000 to finish. 

The house was completed in 1956 with a total mortgage of $19,000. Within a few short years, both Henry and Lois worked full time to pay off the mortgage completely. Henry worked at Kisiel Die Casting Manufacturing Company and Lois worked for New York Telephone. 

With their third child on the way in 1959, they had finished their home and had paid off their mortgage to the bank with no outstanding debt. In the end, the final cost of the home was $45,000.

The home is of red Roman rock-face brick from Louisiana. There are 13,000 bricks in the house which cost of 13 cents per brick at the time they were purchased. Stanley and John Stalytza, of Alden, were the bricklayers and they charged Mr. Kisiel 10 cents a brick for their labor. 

The plaster interior is over an inch thick and was done by the Hales in Batavia. 

The winter had come and Henry had to get the bricks laid so he built a covering for the house so the bricklayers could work throughout the winter. In the spring, he took down the covering and to the amazement of his friends and neighbors, the house was more beautiful than they had imagined. 

Henry wanted round windows and in the front door and on the exterior he implemented those designs. The deep eaves overhang the perimeter of the house. The eaves in the back of the house are even deeper than the front to shade the walkway that leads to the open breezeway.  The wooden-shingled garage is in the special pinkish-red paint that so perfectly complements the brick. The original wooden garage door with its rectangular windows retains the character of Mid-century Modern.

The living room ceiling gently curves in a soffit of plaster to hide the tops of the curtain rods, as if the drapes are falling from the air. Pink marble windowsills are throughout the house and instead of wood, bull-nose plaster frames every window and doorway and the edges of all the walls.  The original Formica countertops in the kitchen and wooden cupboards have been preserved over the years. The only wood is the baseboard, closet and entry doors, kitchen cupboards, and bathroom vanity. The Mid-century Modern gem is mostly of smooth sound plaster and solid brick exterior. Two fireplaces of the same red brick go from floor to ceiling in the living room and basement.

The Landmark Society of Genesee County recognizes we have passed the 50-year mark for houses to be considered landmarks, which qualifies many of the mid-century ranch, rambler, and split-level homes that were built after World War II into the 1960s. 

Fortunately, Genesee County has many that fall into this category and the hope is that people will begin to realize the wonderful architecture that transpired during this period and continue to care for and preserve this architectural style in our communities for generations to come.

Therefore, we would like to honor Henry Kisiel for his original design and building of his home on Creek Road and his preservation of it throughout the years. However, more importantly, for his longevity and personification of the pursuit of the American Dream and being of The Greatest Generation who came back from war to build a wonderful architectural style that accommodated the next generation --  a style their children known as the Baby Boomers were born and raised in.

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