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Donaldson House Slated For Demolition

The historic Donaldson House in Kansas City, Mo. is slated for demolition on December 19. It's something that's been in the works for at least a decade. Demolition not unexpected for historic home

The Kansas City Art Institute has owned the Donaldson House, 4347 Oak St., since 1967. At one time it was used for studio space and classes, but it's been boarded up for years.

In January 2012, Historic Kansas City Foundationreleased its annual listof "most endangered" historic buildings and resources. This list included the Donaldson House, described as a "2 1/2 story Queen Ann...a rare local example of Shingle Style architecture and is asymmetrical with a sweeping conical shaped roof, a large rounded front porch, intersecting gables, and steeply pitched rooflines."

The Kansas City Star's Steve Paul wrote in March 2012, as part of the "Architecture A to Z" series, that demolition was likely to come soon for the "111-year-old house at the south edge of midtown with a brawny stone porch and a Shingle Style exterior done in gray slate (a rare touch)."

Neighborhood and preservation groups had hoped for other options. The Southmoreland Neighborhood Association listed the Donaldson House as a "neighborhood issue" on its website, posting possible restoration plans.

According to a report in Wednesday's Star, demolition is expected to start on December 19; it "will take about two weeks to complete and the Art Institute plans to salvage the home's distinctive stone-framed porch and its front door."

The Historic Kansas City Foundation released this statement to The Star:

“We had hoped that the better instincts of good stewardship might prevail to save this historically and architecturally significant structure, particularly when the steward is an organization devoted to the visual and design arts,” the foundation stated. “This is a loss for the Southmoreland neighborhood and our entire community.

Offered for $1, but no buyers

In 2004, the Kansas City Art Institute's master plan included a new liberal arts facility in the third phase, which would "renovate Donaldson House and add a 3 story classroom addition to the south." It's estimated that the costs of this renovation would total more than $1.5 million.

In 2011, KCAI released this statement:

Over the last several years, the Kansas City Art Institute has been working with a team of architects to develop a campus master plan that is sensitive to our beautiful neighborhood and to our Southmoreland neighbors while providing the highest quality programs and facilities to our more than 750 art and design students. Late last year, after sharing our master planning process with our Southmoreland neighbors, we asked the Landmarks Commission to approve removal of Donaldson House. The planning process had led us to conclude that it was not financially feasible to renovate Donaldson House for our use and that the best use of the site would be to provide additional housing for our growing student body. The Landmarks Commission denied our request, and the college has taken no further action. While some of our neighbors opposed the request to remove Donaldson House, other neighbors supported the college. The college previously has offered to make the house available for $1 to anyone who would buy it and relocate it. We made that offer known to our neighbors, the Landmarks Commission and its staff and others in the community. That offer still stands, and we would be very interested in visiting with anyone who would like to purchase the house and move it to a new location.

As the statement mentions, the Landmarks Commission denied demolition by a vote of 4 to 1 on December 10, 2010. In an email, a Historic Preservation Office staffer says "due to the language of the ordinance when it is denied they are allowed to go ahead and demolish it after 18 months."

And, despite the college's proposal to sell the house for $1 for "anyone who would buy it and relocate it," potential buyers who considered the offer decided it would be too cost prohibitive.

Plans for the site

Spokesperson Anne Canfield told the Star that once demolition is complete, the property would be used for student housing. Over the last 15 years, the college has seen an increase in student enrollment. In 1995, the student population was 562. This fall, 810 students were enrolled.

According to the college's website, on-campus housing at the Student Living Center accommodates up to 190 students, but an estimated 40 percent of students live off-campus in the Southmoreland neighborhood.

Other notable aspects about the Donaldson House:

It's reportedly haunted. According to HauntedHouses.com, "eight different entities reside in this mansion, and only one of them is friendly and benign."

Lester Goldman, Kansas City Art Institute professor of painting from 1966 until his death in 2005, painted a landscape early in his career of the Donaldson House. Goldman is more widely known for his playful abstract paintings and installations, but he was also a talented realist painter.

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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