Kansas City Museum Announces Stage II of Ambitious Restoration

Site plan of the Kansas City Museum property showing future projects (Kansas City Museum)

Artists continue to play a prominent role, including a Skyspace commission from James Turrell

The Kansas City Museum has announced plans for Stage II of a multi-year project to restore its 3.5-acre property on Gladstone Boulevard, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The restoration of the former residence of lumber magnate, civic leader and philanthropist Robert Long, designed by the prominent local architect Henry F. Hoit and completed in 1910, began in October 2017.

The first stage of restoration involved the Beaux-Arts style Corinthian Hall, centerpiece of the estate. The design work was provided by International Architects Atelier (IAA), which will continue in that capacity for Stage II. Gallagher and Associates, also involved in Stage I, is working on exhibition interactives for Corinthian Hall.

“The integration of the arts into the Stage II restoration and renovation process continues what was a critical aspect of the success of Stage I,” said Andy Short, IAA senior associate. “Restoring the historic character of the buildings on the site is an important part of bringing life back to the entire property, but the ability to incorporate the work of world-class artists and collaborate with them throughout the design phase will add another layer to the experience.”

Stage II includes what remains to be restored on the property. But initially, the priorities are its Skyspace, JewelHouse and Carriage House, which will immerse visitors in a variety of artistic mediums.

James Turrell, “Skyspace Rendering,” design in process ((c) James Turrell, rendering by International Architects Atelier)

The Skyspace — one of 85 such spaces in the world, but the first in Missouri and Kansas — will be designed by Flagstaff, Arizona-based James Turrell, an internationally recognized architect and artist known for his “work with light and space to create art works that engage viewers with the limits and wonder of human perception of reality.”

Turrell’s plan for Kansas City’s Skyspace is for a separate structure, or “chamber,” with an aperture in the retractable ceiling through which viewers can observe the sky. It will include “a sequenced light program that interacts with the atmospheric light coming through the aperture to create a spectrum of colors and provide an immersive sensory experience.” It will be acoustically designed for programs and music performances to celebrate Kansas City’s music history and heritage. It is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2024.

The redesign of the site’s conservatory is in the hands of New York-based artist Summer Wheat, whom many may remember from her 2020 exhibition at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Wheat plans to transform the building into a “light-filled sacred space” titled “JewelHouse.” The plan calls for restoration of the building’s limestone exterior and roof, the recreation of the perimeter windows, and the redesign of the pergola.

Summer Wheat, “JewelHouse rendering, day view,” design in process ((c) Summer Wheat, rendering by International Architects Atelier)

Wheat will produce artworks of stained glass, metal and mosaic for the exterior and interior to create “a contemplative sanctuary centering the often untold, evolving stories of women and girls — past, present, and future — and discover the inner jewels (inner light) of their personal stories and the vastness of identity, memory, perspective, and belonging.” It is scheduled to open in 2024.

Historical drawing of the Carriage House weathervane by architect Henry Hoit, circa 1907.  Architectural renderings of Ed Dwight’s new weathervane will be released by International Architects Atelier in 2023. (Kansas City Museum)

Yet another artistic touch for Stage II will be provided by Kansas City, Kansas-born artist Ed Dwight, now based in Denver, who has an extensive portfolio of artworks in private and public collections throughout the United States, most notably his bronzes depicting African American history. For the Kansas City Museum, Dwight will design and fabricate a new, functional weathervane to sit atop the cupola of the Carriage House. The original weathervane was removed between 1914 and 1917 and taken to Longview Farm, where the Longs’ daughter, Loula, housed and bred horses.

The Carriage House, the oldest of the buildings on the historic site, will be restored to include programs and exhibits about Loula and the story of Kansas City’s equestrian history, as well as administrative offices. The new weathervane will be made of copper and bronze and measure 5 by 7 feet. The paddock area adjacent to the Carriage House will be restored and used by horses when they are on the city property for programs and events. The Carriage House is scheduled to reopen by 2026.

Kansas City Museum Director Anna Marie Tutera, said the goal of the restoration is “to create a vibrant and participatory visitor experience that reflects the dynamic history, culture, and impact of Kansas City.” When asked about the amount of art included in the project, she added: “We are a history museum that uses a multidisciplinary approach to learning about our city’s past, present and future. The artwork provides new narratives and perspectives that contextualize the exhibits and the opportunity for reflection, representation, connection, and belonging. In the museum field, we have traditionally adhered to strict boundaries between art museum and history museum. Thankfully, this is changing.”

The Long family donated the property to the KC Museum Association in 1939. In 1948, the buildings and grounds were deeded to the City of Kansas City, Missouri. The museum is operated and managed by the Kansas City Museum Foundation through a cooperative agreement with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Estimates for the three project priorities for Stage II amount to $18.4 million and between $25 to 30 million for the rest of the property. The start date for construction has not yet been set.

Bryan F. Le Beau

Bryan F. Le Beau is retired from the University of Saint Mary, where he served as Professor of History, Provost, and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He is the author of several books on American cultural and religious history.

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