Dillon House Historical Background
Hiram Price (H.P.) Dillon – The man behind the Dillon House
The Dillon House was the realization of a goal for the man responsible for its construction. Hiram Price Dillon was a lawyer, who by all accounts of the day was generous of spirit and wealth, but did not seek glory in return for these charitable acts. In fact he was known to shun such attention. For a number of years children of Topeka believed in Santa Claus, because there was a Mr. and Mrs. Claus. But once their secret identity was revealed to be the Dillon’s, the presents ceased.
The Dillon House is an example of Italian Renaissance revival architecture that was a popular eclectic style between 1890 and 1935. The mansion exhibits characteristic features such as the wide, overhanging hipped, tile roof and the classical columns and entablature at the front entry. The house is a two and one half story brick bearing wall, with stone and stucco accents. The brick is set primarily in the Flemish bond pattern with soldier course bands at the bottom of the first floor and the top of the second floor. The face brick, described in historic newspaper accounts as “tapestry brick”, has a velour finish and while predominantly yellow or tan exhibits buff, brown and pink undertones.
The windows are a mixture of divided lite casement styled windows and single lite double hung windows, but all windows in the house are wood. Typical casement groupings are a pair with flanking singles set off by a broad band of wood or stone trim or a simple pair. First floor casements are 3-lites high with transoms above and second floor casements are 4-lites high with no transoms. Stone trim adorns window and door openings. A frieze elaborates the Central, East and West Wings and is set off from the body of the house by a soldier course. This frieze is composed of decorative brick banding with stucco insets. H. P. Dillon, born in 1855, was the son of an Iowa lawyer. Hiram’s father was also a circuit court judge, an Iowa Supreme Court Justice, and went on to teach law at Columbia University in 1870. Following in his father’s footsteps, H.P. Dillon graduated from Iowa University with a law degree. Hiram arrived in Topeka in 1874 and established himself in a law partnership with A.L Williams. Hiram reportedly chose Topeka over Kansas City because of the prestige that a state capital offered. for the railroad financier and magnet, Jay Gould. The association with Jay Gould resulted in Hiram representing Jay’s daughter, Anna, as she divorced her first husband, Paul Boniface, the Comte de Casteallane. This notorious divorce, between an American tycoon’s daughter and charming European count, kept the Dillon’s in Paris for about a year in 1905 and 1906.
After retiring early from law Hiram was not content to sit at home. He served as a director for the Merchants National Bank and Central National Bank and was president of the Shawnee Fire Insurance Company. Early in their residence on Harrison they would have witnessed the break neck construction of the West Wing of the Kansas Statehouse. From the middle 1880’s on they would have observed the far slower moving construction of the North and South Wings, and along with them, the dome that crowns the capital building.
H.P. Dillon and his wife decided to build a new home, one that was meant for the grand social entertaining they knew back East. They had a house designed, but in late 1910 the plans were scuttled when Dillon engineered a swap for the Crane property north of this home, on the northwest corner of ninth and Southwest Harrison. Dillon also purchased adjacent lots immediately to the north. This property afforded him a great frontage on to the Statehouse (some six lots in total). In newspaper accounts of the time, Dillon had sent plans back to his architect in New York to be re-drawn for this new combined property. Dreams of a modern city mansion were described for the paper, with Dillon down playing the cost and saying it would not be the finest or even one of the finest in the city. Newspaper accounts from April of 1911 describe the house as modern and the largest in the city, with an ideal library and a passenger elevator.
The house was described to be a two and one half story of colonial style, with no gingerbread, made of tapestry brick with a tile roof, French casement windows. A two story porch with a pergola were planned to adorn the east face of the home. Construction was hoped to be completed in November of 1911. A 1916 feature article in Home & Garden magazine indicate that the Dillon House was designed by the New York architect of Charles E. Birge. He was well a known and highly sought after architect for many buildings in the New York and Chicago area.
Obituary - New York Times (New York) dated 21 Nov. 1942:
Scarsdale, N. Y., Nov. 22 - Charles E. Birge, retired architect, who designed the Bankers Trust Company building at Fifty-seventh Street and Madison Avenue, NewYork, and many other office buildings and private residences in the Metropolitan area, died here today at his home, 20 Oxford Road, after a year's illness that included several strokes. He was born in Algona, Iowa, seventy-one years ago. After his graduation from the University of Wisconsin in 1893, Mr. Birge attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for two years and then studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. On his return he engaged in architectural practice in Chicago for a brief period before moving to New York. For many years, until his retirement in 1937, he had a New York office on Thirty-Fourth Street near Fifth Avenue.
Many of the Schrafft's stores were designed by Mr. Birge, who also did much work for William Randolph Hearst, both residential and business in character. For two terms he was a trustee of the village of Scarsdale and for a time was acting-Mayor. He was one of the charter members of the Westchester-Biltmore Country Club, now the Westchester Country Club, in Rye.
Mr. Birge was a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Birge. His mother, the former Harriet Starin, belonged to a family owning many valuable pieces of property in Westchester, including the Glen Island Casino. No members of his immediate family survive.
During the same time that the Dillon House was being built, another, slightly larger structure designed by Charles E. Birge was also under construction. The Bankers Trust Company Building in New York City. (seen below)
The Dillon’s did not host their first social function in the new house until June of 1913, indicating that all may not have gone as planned during construction. But the event was well marked and attended by an account in the society pages. Some description of the rooms in the house is given, mostly about the colors, as every room was lavishly appointed with fresh flowers that complimented the room’s décor. Furnishings in the house were largely European antiques, likely collected in their year abroad. H.P. Dillon did not long enjoy his grand residence. He died in September of 1918; his wife lived in the house with her son and his family until her death in 1937. Several years passed and the family fortune was distributed among the succeeding generations. The contents that were not claimed were sold at a two day auction in July of 1941, which attracted dealers and collectors from all of over the country. The house, free of its contents was sold to American Home Life Insurance Company.