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Iconic Suburban House Headed To New Iconic Johnson County Home

courtesy SFS Architecture
An architectural rendering of the exhibition space inside the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, at the site of the former King Louie on Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park. The 1950s All-Electric House is pictured, at left.

In the early 1950s, the Kansas City Power & Light Co. dreamed up a futuristic home to demonstrate — and promote — the potential of electrical technology. The target audience: couples moving to the suburbs. 

KCP&L built the all-electric house in Prairie Village, Kansas, in 1953. The five-room ranch featured novel innovations for the time, such as remote-controlled lighting, an electric heat pump for central heat and air, and a garage door opener. Stylish furnishings were provided by the department store, Emery Bird Thayer (EBT).  

Credit Johnson County Museum
Johnson County Museum
A photograph of people standing in line at the All-Electric House, 1954. This was published in KCPL's employee newsletter.

Tens of thousands lined up to take a tour when it first opened, and families later lived in it.

In 1994, a Prairie Village couple donated the house to the Johnson County Museum, and it was moved to the museum grounds in Shawnee. After a few years of renovation and restoration, it opened as "The 1950s All-Electric House." 

But, in January, it closed to the public — and on April 12, it will be on the move again.

After months of preparation, the house will be loaded on to a truck and travel overnight to the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center in Overland Park, in the former King Louie building at 8788 Metcalf Ave. — inside what used to be the indoor skating rink.

Credit Johnson County Museum
Johnson County Museum
The 1950s All-Electric House featured innovations, such as an electric heat pump for central air and heat, and remote-controlled lighting.

Trevor Patton, general manager of Patton House and Building Movers, heads up the team moving the house using steel beams and dollies. 

"The first thing I do is take measurements of the house — height, width, length — and then I drive several potential routes that could accommodate the width," Patton says, "looking for light poles, trees, power poles, anything that would obstruct moving the house." 

Three or four different routes were considered, but only one provided enough room — snaking through four Johnson County cities, Shawnee, Merriam, Mission, and Overland Park, and along major roadways: Lackman Road, Shawnee Mission Parkway, and Metcalf Avenue. 

"There's a lot of collaboration and a lot of planning going on with the municipalities, businesses," says Josh Vogel, project manager with McCownGordon Construction. "It's quite an orchestrated event."

The trip is scheduled to start in the evening of April 12 at 7 p.m., and it will be a slow process — about 10 to 12 hours, at three to five miles an hour (a map of the route is available here). 

As the All-Electric House is in transit, streets will be closed off and traffic diverted. Johnson County Government plans to provide updates for area residents on Facebook and Twitter. 

When it arrives on the morning of April 13, you may be wondering how the house will be placed inside another building. According to McCownGordon's Josh Vogel, an exterior wall of the former ice skating rink has been removed and a ramp has been built, "so they can drive the dolly and the house on in." 

The final leg of the journey "adds some very unique and non-typical features to a commercial building project. That part has been very educational," Vogel says.

This project marks the first step of relocating the Johnson County Museum and its collection to the new Arts and Heritage Center, scheduled to open in the spring of 2017. The 1950s All-Electric House will be part of an exhibition called Shaping Johnson County: Pursuit of a Good Life. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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