Iola’s old Elm Street water tower hasn’t been used for years, aside from being home to a couple of antennas and an occasional gathering spot for turkey vultures.
Max and Candice Grundy want to change that.
The Iola artists — transplants from Utah, by way of Los Angeles — have proposed turning the old piece of city infrastructure into a one-of-a-kind tourist destination.
The Grundys want to convert the tower into a high-rise Airbnb, complete with an observation deck to provide a 360-degree panoramic view of Iola and surrounding countryside.
“There’s so much natural beauty here,” Max Grundy said. ‘The sky is so radiantly blue and the grass is so vividly green. The landscape can be so amazing, and you’d be able to see it from a high perspective.”
The idea came from an offhand comment from a friend back in California, who wondered if something like a converted water tower would work back on the West Coast.
“That’s when the light bulb went off,” Grundy said. ‘We have a water tower here in town.”
The Grundys are proposing the tank portion of the tower become a split-level living space, including an open-top floor plan and loft space, complete with windows around the perimeter to offer stunning views of the countryside in every direction.
The lowest portions of the tank portion of the tower would hold utilities, such as water heater and HVAC systems. Occupants would access the living quarter and observatory via a freight elevator utilizing one of the tower’s legs.
The Grundy proposal was discussed briefly by Iola City Council members at their June 13 meeting, which would obviously require transfer of ownership to the Grundys, and whether Iola’s purchasing policies would mandate putting the tower up for bids to any and all potential buyers.
“There would be people who could outbid us, for sure, but there won’t be a lot of people who could get done what we’d get done,” Grundy said. “We’d make it happen. We have all the connections in order to build it, to engineer it so it would be safe.”
THE GRUNDYS grew up in Utah, moving to Los Angeles in 2008 as Max and Candice’s art careers took off.
His drawings of hot rods and all things automotive quickly developed a following in southern California as Grundy eventually reached deals to drum up designs for SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association), a trade association popular among car builders and enthusiasts.
Grundy describes his art as “retro-futurism, kind of dark, but kind of light at the same time.”
Grundy’s work eventually caught the eye of a representative for Disney, which led to an entirely new line of work with the House of Mouse. Grundy helped come up with design ideas for Cars Land, a Disneyland attraction featuring the movie “Cars,’’ as well as with other Disney franchises, including “Sleeping Beauty,” “‘Frozen” and now “Star Wars.” (His latest piece is a painting of Darth Vader inside a cantina.)
“We’re not that important, but we’re happy to be a part of it,” Grundy said.
But for all of their professional success, the Grundys soon realized that southern California living was a bad fit for their young family. They have two children, daughter Church, 12, and son Ace, 10.
“When everything broke out with the pandemic and the rioting, we’d had enough of this,” Grundy said. ‘There are a lot of benefits to living out there, but it was time for us to go.”
A friend invited the Grundys to visit his home in Cameron, Mo, a northern Kansas City suburb.
They found Missouri intriguing. “It’s a beautiful state, but something just didn’t click,” Grundy said.
Namely, they couldn’t find a house to suit their tastes, he elaborated.
“We knew we were looking for a mid-century model home,” he said.
Their real estate agent found such a home on North Kentucky Street in Iola, owned by the late Mary Lea Wright.
“It was like walking into a time capsule,” Grundy said. “It had the original mahogany walls. We love that stuff from that kind of era. It was in really great condition. It just needed some sprucing up. We fell in love with it. It felt like home”
Not willing to buy a home without first checking out the community, the Grundys spent some learning about Iola — and loving what they learned.
Grundy compared Iola’s atmosphere to a cross between Mayberry and Marty McFly’s hometown in “Back to the Future.”
“It was just right for us,” he said. “Downtown is so clean and organized. Old buildings are kept in proper order.”
The Grundys moved to Iola in mid 2021, and have since then kept busy renovating the home.
“We’ve painted the entire inside, and put in new floors,” he said.
Next on the to-do list is the exterior, and a horse barn soon will be expanded and converted into the couple’s studio — complete with a workshop for cars.
On top of his art, Grundy also enjoys restoring vintage hot rods. He usually finishes one each year for the SEMA show.
He continues to work in Los Angeles, or wherever his art business takes him.
‘We’re on the cusp of everyone realizing you can live anywhere you want and make a living,” Grundy said. “You can work online, and here it’s so easy to go to an airport and fly wherever you want.”
GRUNDY is eager to share his vision about the water tower with whomever wants to learn more.
He and Candice — she’s also a skilled artist capable of working alongside her husband — have dabbled in building designs previously, including designing what became the SEMA headquarters in Los Angeles.
“It was really a fun project,” Grundy said. ‘We haven’t done a lot of architecture, but we’ve always kind of had it going on.
“We just love anything related to design, and try to get involved with whatever we can,” he continued. “We love this kind of country, small-town vibe. It’s been really nice for us to get out of the craziness.”