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Up To Date

After Years Of Work, Johnson County's New Arts & Heritage Center To Open In A Familiar Spot

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SFS Architecture
A rendering of the south side of the new Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, which opens to the public June 10.

The doors of the old King Louie West Lanes bowling alley and ice skating rink have been closed to the public since 2009. On Saturday, the iconic building will reopen, this time as the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center.

The grand opening marks the culmination of years or work on the part of county officials and staff, architects, designers, contractors — even a heavy-lifting crew that moved the Johnson County Museum's 1950s All-Electric House from Shawnee, Kansas, into the massive building, located at 8788 Metcalf Avenue.

"That column-free space, with the high ceilings — two of those spaces between the [old] bowling alley and the ice skating rink — were uniquely suited for our needs," says Joe Warner, assistant county manager.

The center will provide new facilities for several more county organizations, including the Arts Council of Johnson County, Parks and Recreation classes, the Developmental Supports' Emerging Artists program and the Overland Park Historical Society.

"It's a very large space," says Mindi Love, director of the Johnson County Museum, about 75,000 square feet in all.

"It's an iconic structure for the county," she says. "People have great community memories there, so putting a museum there that's about community is perfect."

Steve Kraske, host of KCUR's Up To Date, spoke on Wednesday with several people involved in planning and executing the years-long project.

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Credit SFS Architecture
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SFS Architecture
A rendering of the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, facing south Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park.

Tim Bair, producing assistant director for The Theatre in the Park, is excited about a new 330-seat black box theater included under the center's angled roof.

"We won't be just a summertime event anymore," he says, "we'll be a year-round place that you can go and be entertained."

Saturday's grand opening is free to attend, and will include arts and dance demonstrations, yoga classes, a puppet theater and museum tours. An entry fee for the museum will begin after Saturday. Adults get in for $5, seniors for $4, and children's tickets are $3.

Despite the building's transformation, some things about the layout will be familiar to patrons of the old King Louie.

"You could look down onto the ice skating rink before," says Mindi Love, of the county museum. "Now that's all glass and you can look down on the museum space."

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Credit Steve Kraske / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
The Johnson County Museum paid $5,500 for the White Haven Motor Lodge sign in a 2010 auction. Originally standing 40 feet tall, it is now housed in the museum's new home, the county's Arts & Heritage Center.

Attendees can even see the iconic White Haven Motor Lodge sign that hung for years over Metcalf Avenue.

Because of the open floor plan "that sign really does glow throughout the building," Love says.

Anticipation for the opening has been building throughout county government, says Sharon Watson, the county's director of public affairs.

"You can just feel the excitement around the organization, throughout the county," she says. "We think we have something there for pretty much everyone."

You can hear the entire 'Up To Date' conversation about the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center here.

Luke X. Martin is the associate producer of KCUR's 'Up To Date.' Contact him at luke@kcur.org and on Twitter.

The Kansas City region has long been a place where different ways of life collide. I tell the stories of people living and working where race, culture and ethnicity intersect. I examine racial equity and disparity, highlight the area's ethnic groups and communities of color, and invite all of Kansas City to explore meaningful ways to bond with and embrace cultures different from their own. Email me at luke@kcur.org.