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Arts & Life

It took 7 years and 'over a thousand hands' to restore the Kansas City Museum

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Julie Denesha
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Museum Director Anna Marie Tutera greets partygoers as they arrived at the 2021 Derby Party at the Kansas City Museum.

The Kansas City Museum will reopen to the public on Oct. 21, after a $22 million renovation project. The Beaux-Arts style mansion was the scene of a fundraiser last month hosted by the Kansas City Museum Foundation to celebrate its new look.

A crowd gathered for a party on the lawn of the Kansas City Museum in the Historic Northeast. Eboni Fondren wore a bright pink hat and gown for the event which allowed attendees a sneak peek at the newly-renovated Corinthian Hall.

“Oh, I love it," Fondren says. "I've been here a couple of times through the transition, and it's beautiful, like, absolutely stunning.”

Once the doors opened, visitors streamed into the grand hall on the first floor where Regina Nouhan was having a look around.

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Julie Denesha
A lounging marble figure greets visitors streaming into the grand hall.

“Every little place you look, something has been thought about and attended to in such a nice way," Nouhan observed. "It's just lovely, you know, there is such opulence here, but it's so elegantly done that you just can't help but appreciate it. It's really quite stunning. It's really just a lovely surprise to reconnect with this beautiful building."

For Kim Weinberger, exploring the building brought back childhood memories.

“I grew up here in Kansas City. So the schools would tour this building a lot," Weinberger remembered. "We came for a lot of visits and it feels good to see it in its grand opulence.”

The history of the Kansas City Museum

Corinthian Hall was built in 1910 for Gilded Age lumber baron Robert A. Long. And for more than two decades the Long family lived in the four-story mansion. Later the building was donated and converted into a science museum. In the 1950s, the museum featured natural history exhibits with stuffed animals in lifelike dioramas and exhibits of fossils, rocks, and minerals.

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Julie Denesha
Eboni Fondren and Lola Shelton-Council pose for Tony DeWitt in the shadow of the newly-renovated Corinthian Hall.

Several decades later the museum had outgrown the space and Union Station was chosen as the site for a new science museum.

From 2005 to December 2013, the Kansas City Museum was managed by Union Station Kansas City, Inc., the same organization that maintains Kansas City's Union Station. And in May 2021, the Kansas City Museum Foundation entered into a cooperative agreement with the city of Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation Department to operate and manage the museum.

Since May 2017, the museum has been closed for repairs. The restoration and renovation project spanned seven years and involved hundreds of workers.

A long awaited party

Among the partygoers was Chiluba Musonda who is the deputy director of operations.

“There's a lot of work we still have to finish up and do," said Musonda. "But just to see people walking around, it really warms the heart because there's a lot of work that goes into this.”

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Julie Denesha
Chiluba Musonda, deputy director of operations, says "thousands of hands" touched the building during the seven-year, $22 million restoration and renovation project.

“Over a thousand hands have touched this building in terms of the work, from electricians to plumbers to the guys who work on the HVAC system," Musonda said. "So it's been a team effort and to have all different kinds of people contribute to the reopening says a lot. So super happy. Super excited.”

Anna Marie Tutera is the executive director of the museum. For Tutera and her staff, modernizing and restoring the building was just the first step in a long process. The museum reopens on Oct. 21 with a new mission.

“Once we determined that the Kansas City Museum was going to feature untold stories about Kansas City's history, that this was going to be kind of a people's history, that we were going to embrace the best of what a city museum can do for a community, that we were going to focus on civic unity and social justice, then that really led the design process,” Tutera explained.

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Julie Denesha
Dressed in Roaring 20s costumes, partygoers enjoy the festivities on the lawn.

Rotating exhibits will feature neighborhood galleries and artifacts from the museum’s collections. The exhibits will help tell the story of Kansas City’s diverse, cultural history.

“We don't ever really know the whole story, right?" Tutera said. "History is broken into all of these pieces and so it's you know, it's a retelling, it's an interpretation. But we wanted to do it in a way where we are engaging multiple perspectives.”

Out on the front lawn Wayne Giles took in the festive scene while waiting for the next tour to begin.

“I'm not a long time resident of Kansas City — only about 38 years," Giles joked. "But I remember it as the R.A. Long Mansion and it was in disrepair and it is wonderful that the Kansas City Museum is taking it and now able to raise the funds for renovation. I'm looking forward to the grand opening, or re-grand opening, whatever they call it.”

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