© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meet The People Updating The 109-Year-Old Kansas City Museum For A 21st Century Future

courtesy: Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library
A vintage photograph of the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall.

For generations of school kids who rode buses to the Kansas City Museum, the most memorable part of the field trip, at least up until the early 1980s, might have been the full-sized igloo — you could climb in and out of it.

That igloo was less relevant to local history, however, than the 1910-style soda fountain, which served ice cream and phosphates, or the carriage house annex filled with dioramas of taxidermied animals.

But the school field trips eventually dropped off, along with other attendance, as renovations started in 2005 and progressed at a halting pace. The city's parks and recreation department took over operations and management in 2014, and city officials hired Anna Marie Tutera, who has a background in leading museums and historic homes, like the Wornall/Majors House Museums, to be executive director. The museum is now closed, in the midst of a major renovation, and scheduled to re-open again next year.

"So the Kansas City Museum isn't just focused on the past," says Tutera. "We're looking at current events, we're looking at future developments, of Kansas City." 

It will tell the city's story, Tutera says, through "all of the great experiences of a 21st century museum."

But creating a 21st century museum to tell some stories that are more than a century old requires contributions from all sorts of experts. Here are a few of them.

Eric Bosch
Architect, City of Kansas City

This first stage, restoring and renovating Corinthian Hall, wrapped up at the end of April. Bosch was part of the team that traveled to cities such as New York City and Chicago to do research "especially homes that have turned into museums."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Eric Bosch is the City Architect in Kansas City, Missouri.

Lumber baron R.A. Long built Corinthian Hall, a stately four-story mansion at 3218 Gladstone Boulevard and named for its six Corinthian columns, in 1910. The Long family lived there for more than two decades. The property was then donated to be used as a museum, which opened in 1940.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Charles and Anna Milbank Library was recently restored as part of a major renovation project of Corinthian Hall, which is the home of the Kansas City Museum in the historic Northeast.

"I work on a lot of architectural projects," said Bosch. "And usually when you're done, you're done. But with museums, and we know this with experience now, that this will never be done. And that's a good thing."

"And that's the key thing that I want people to understand is that there's always going to be something new to see." 

Elizabeth Amirahmadi
Principal, International Architects Atelier (IAA) 

Some rooms, like the kitchen, had less of the original mansion's architectural character intact. So decisions had to be made: should the team try to re-create the history or start fresh?

"And we really worked together as a team to decide which path to take," said Amirahmadi.

The ceiling has markings that reflect the original floor plan, with a servant's eating area and a series of rooms. But it's now an open space, with clean lines, that will house a cafe and a demonstration kitchen.

"And the kitchen is still a kitchen. So it is a modern interpretation," Amirahmadi said. "It's serving the new function, but it still is keeping in the history." 

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Elizabeth Amirahmadi is a principal at International Architects Atelier.

Amirahmadi's firm has worked with the museum on renovation projects for two decades.

The salon, on the museum's first floor, looks a bit like Versailles — think gilded interior and mirrors. But the walls are now cream, instead of a bright white. Peeling back through layers of paint helped restore it to the original 1910 color.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
A sculptural relief in the Grand Salon.

Jim Schneider
Senior Project Manager, J.E. Dunn Construction

This project is the first time Schneider has worked with an arts and cultural institution.

"On a new build from the ground up, we're trying to go as quickly as we can," Schneider said. "And it's a little different when you come into this scenario and it's an existing building. You've got to take time."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Jim Schneider is a senior project manager at J.E. Dunn Construction.

The wood floors inside Corinthian Hall, original to the house, have been refinished. The walls are also original plaster, now cleaned up and repainted.

But modern innovations such as LED lighting, a fire sprinkler system, speakers, and acoustic panels, have also been added. 

"So it was a lot slower process than I was used to," Schneider said.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The Grand Stair and landing were recently restored as a part of a major renovation project of Corinthian Hall, which is the home of the Kansas City Museum in the historic Northeast.

While the first floor keeps a focus on the history of the house and the Long family, the second and third floors turn to a wider view, with a timeline of Kansas City highlighting people and neighborhoods from the past and present. 

The museum will feature works from the collection of more than 100,000 artifacts, from the Dyer Collection of Native American Culture to clothing, textiles, and costumes.

Anna Marie Tutera
Executive director, Kansas City Museum

"When the visitors come to the Kansas City Museum, everybody will enter using this front door," said Tutera. "We want everybody to enter having the same experience."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Anna Marie Tutera is the executive director at the Kansas City Museum.

There will be permanent installations as well as changing exhibitions, with digital technology playing a role.

"When you come into these rooms, you're in a pretty intimate learning environment. These are relatively small gallery spaces and it's a lot of content and a lot of messages to have in small spaces," Tutera said.

"So we're really using interactive digital technologies to take the content, to extend the stories."

A variety of partners, from the Kansas City Public Library to UMKC's Center for Neighborhoods, are also working with the museum, so visitors can share and record their stories.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
A carved detail on the mantle of the fireplace in the Charles and Anna Milbank Library.

The museum's mission is "to preserve, interpret, and celebrate Kansas City" and to be a hub for engagement.

Next steps including finalizing plans for the exhibitions at Corinthian Hall, slated for installation later this year, and moving on to stage two: renovations to the Carriage House and the Caretakers Home. 

Corinthian Hall is expected to re-open to the public in late 2020. 

"We are incredibly excited to be at this point," said Tutera. "We are at substantial completion for architectural construction. This has been a long time coming."

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @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.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.