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Kansas City Symphony Plans Move Into Historic Webster School Building In The Crossroads

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
The Webster School building will be the home of the Kansas City Symphony.

The Kansas City Symphony is moving across the street from its current home in the Vitagraph Building and will consolidate its operations — administrative, musical and creative.

The Kansas City Symphony announced Friday it is moving its offices and other functions into the old Webster School — giving a new life to the historic Crossroads building and moving the symphony closer to its main performance stage.

The 135-year-old former schoolhouse at 1644 Wyandotte St. last operated as the Webster House, which sold antiques and housed an upscale restaurant and bar. It closed in April 2020, mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kansas City Symphony executive director Danny Beckley said plans for the new headquarters include musician recitals, rehearsal spaces, educational programming and special events.

“This will be a perfect complement to our main stage performances just next door in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts,” Beckley said in a news release. “This historic space will help us provide context to the art of symphonic music, which will deepen engagement with our community.”

In 2001, entrepreneur and philanthropist Shirley Bush Helzberg bought the two-story building. It operated as a school from 1885 until 1932 in the Kansas City Public School District.

Helzberg renovated the building and opened Webster House in 2002. She also restored the Vitagraph Building, a former film-storage warehouse at 17th and Wyandotte, which serves as the Symphony's current home.

Helzberg is also a past Symphony board chair.

“My family and I can think of no better purpose for the Webster School building,” she said in a statement. “We are delighted that our symphony will have a new home and will be able to welcome the people of Kansas City back to a space they know and love.”

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Entrepreneur Shirley Bush Helzberg restored the Webster School building, and opened it in 2002 as Webster House, nearly a decade before the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened.

Michael Stern, the symphony's music director, described Helzberg as “at the heart of our symphony family.”

He added that the symphony already has a fond relationship with the old schoolhouse. “The building itself is more than just an elegant and iconic landmark in the Crossroads," Stern said. "It has been the place for countless musical gatherings, celebrations and events in which the Symphony and the community could come together.”

The Sunderland Foundation is providing lead funding for the project. Helix Design and Straub Construction have been tapped “to create a modern space while preserving the character of this storied building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places,” according to the symphony.

Helix also worked on the original Webster House restoration. Plans call for the outdoor courtyard and first floor to hold public gatherings. The restaurant, kitchen, and bar will host special events.

Alissa Wehmueller, Principal at Helix Architecture + Design, said in a release that the firm welcomes "the opportunity to work in a historic building that has as much depth and ornate detail as Webster House."

She added: "We are very intentional in how we can approach the project with a light touch and amplify those existing features."

The Symphony is expected to provide a new name for its headquarters in the next few months.

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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