King Louie Building Will Soon Begin New Life as Arts and Heritage Center

After several years of planning and renovating, the old King Louie building in Overland Park will soon begin a new life as the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.

The former bowling alley and ice skating rink will host occupants such as the Johnson County Museum and a 350-seat “black box” theater that will supplement The Theatre in the Park’s outdoor summer productions.

Visitors to the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center will be met by “Living Room Sculpture Ensemble,” an outdoor five-piece sculpture of a mid-20th-century living room, seen here in a digital rendering, by sculptor Brad Goldberg. (From the artist)

Visitors to the transformed building will be met by an outdoor five-piece sculpture of a mid-20th-century living room, to be created by internationally known sculptor Brad Goldberg.

Stakeholders hope the center will open by May 1, said Tim Bair, The Theatre in the Park’s producing artistic director. “It changes our world completely,” he said. “We won’t have to wait until the sun goes down. We won’t have wildlife to contend with or 110 degrees in the shade.”

Located at 87th and Metcalf, King Louie West Lanes opened in 1959 to serve the multitude of families that sprouted in the Johnson County suburbs during the post-World War II era of prosperity. The Ice Chateau, with a design utilizing the “Googie” form of modern architecture, was added to the King Louie complex in 1966.

A sports and entertainment mecca for many years, King Louie lost patrons as Johnson County development spread further south. The Ice Chateau closed in 2007 and the balls stopped rolling in the bowling alley two years later.

Looking to repurpose the iconic structure, Johnson County acquired the King Louie building in 2011. Many Johnson County residents objected to the $21.5 million cost of renovating the old building.

But no such objections were voiced when Bair took members of The Theatre in the Park Advisory Council on a tour of the building in December.

“They’ve kept enough of the old King Louie building for us old folks to make it interesting,” said advisory council member Jim Royer. “It will give us a year-round venue to do our theater work. They’ve subdivided the interior into very workable spaces. I really didn’t think it would turn out this well, but it did.”

The outdoor sculpture, titled “Living Room Sculpture Ensemble,” will portray a suite of living room furniture of the sort that populated suburban American homes during the 1950s and early ’60s.

“It’s the kind of work of art that you want to walk around, experience the relationships between the forms, look at the surface of the stones, sit on it, feel it,” said Christopher Leitch, an artist and member of the Johnson County Public Art Commission. “You have that great physical relationship with the work, and you can also have a conceptual relationship with it, understanding the history of the design forms that it’s referencing and how it is stylizing those.”

Bair said he likes the fact that King Louie was spared the wrecking ball and given a new lease on life. “I’m thrilled that it didn’t get torn down. It’s so nice to see a piece of architecture like this reimagined.”

Above: Proposed design of the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center

About The Author: Julius Karash

Julius Karash

Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person. He formerly was a business reporter for the Kansas City Star and executive editor of KC Business magazine. He devours business and economic news, and is keenly interested in the relationship between arts and economic development in the Kansas City area.

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