The Kansas City Museum has reopened after a restoration process that spanned over a decade and is almost unrecognizable in its new form
The Kansas City Museum was built in 1910 as a family residence, but it has been a museum for much longer than it has ever been a home. It recently reopened after a phased restoration project that has lasted a decade, longer if you count the recently reopened third floor, which had been banned since the 1980s due to fire code violations.
Every room on the entrance level of the museum has been painstakingly restored to the time when the Long family lived there. Wallpaper patterns and paint colors have been removed from the architect’s drawings, and family furniture sold decades ago has been brought back.
âFrom the start we said that if we didn’t have original material we wouldn’t try to reproduce it or buy something fake that looks old,â says Denise Morrison, Director of Collections of the museum. âInstead, we use current, modern materials so you know what you’re looking at. “
The New Kansas City Museum also integrates contemporary art into its space, blending art and history, old and new, home and museum. The second and third floors have a theater and several galleries that tell the story of Kansas City through a new lens.
We walked through the new museum with Morrison and curator Lisa Shockley before it opened to the public to discover the museum’s hidden Easter eggs. Below are five of the museum’s secrets that you won’t notice at first glance.
The museum originally had what Morrison describes as an “enormous marble table with large, ancient-looking lions on the side” in the entrance. That table disappeared, so the new team of architects and designers built a modern and sleek reception with the outline of what the original lions looked like. The new desk won an international award for its design. Much of the museum’s restoration takes a similar approach, honoring the integrity of the structure as closely as possible in innovative ways.
Salamander & Crown
âOne feature that people might not notice is the living room wallpaper, recreated from the original wallpaper,â says Morrison. The wallpaper design features a salamander and crown motif, the royal emblem of Francis I.
âEach room in the house had a particular design theme,â Shockley adds. “The living room was inspired by FranÃ§ois Ier.”
The living room and the solarium were Ms. Long’s favorite rooms. The library was Mr. Long’s retreat – it is Elizabethan in style with oak-paneled walls and lead-glass bookcases, which are still intact in the museum today.
On the second floor of the museum, an exhibit titled âAn Evolving Urban Landscapeâ features historical figures who have helped spur the city’s growth. Black, immigrant, and working-class communities were largely responsible for Kansas City’s industrial growth, but are often overlooked.
Lafayette Alonzo Tillman was a business owner, community leader, and Kansas City’s second black cop. Her son, Lon, was a doctor at Wheatley-Provident Hospital. The museum displays an order written by Dr. Lon Tillman during Prohibition when alcohol was prescribed for medicinal purposes to evade the constitutional ban on alcohol. The museum acquired its prescription by accident, says Morrison. “Lisa [Shockley] actually found the order while rummaging in a box at a real estate sale.
Lhe is leaving
The museum has a variety of items from HD Lee Co., the jeans company founded by KC, which donated artifacts to the museum before moving to North Carolina.
But these are not jeans that the museum exhibits. Lee’s Jeans actually started out as a mail order food business. Much of the museum’s collection includes early 20th-century coffee tins and spice containers.
The collection also includes the brand’s iconic Buddy Lee doll introduced in the 1920s. “The doll was originally created as a display piece for department stores,” Shockley explains. “After it became popular, it was made into a smaller version of a toy, which remained in production until about 1960, and then in the early 1980s, they brought them back.”
Mirror, Mirror on the ball
The third floor of the museum houses a gallery, “Collection Stories”, which tells the story of El Torreon, a two-story ballroom on Gillham.
Originally opened in 1927, El Torreon had an upper ballroom for jazz music and a lower ballroom for galas, dinners, and other events. And while the exterior of the building at 31st and Gillham has not changed, its interior has taken on many shapes over the years.
After operating as a ballroom during the jazz era, it closed in 1934 due to the Great Depression. It returned in 1937 and was an ice rink and venue for rock ‘n’ roll performances until 1962. Then, in the early 1970s, it became the Cowtown Ballroom, one of the most popular rock venues. across the country, hosting artists like Van Morrison, Frank Zappa and Alice Cooper.
The Kansas City Museum has El Torreon’s original 200-pound mirror ball, which has a story of its own. The mirror ball was installed in El Torreon in 1927. But what is not visible on the screen is the ball motor, whose serial number dates back to 1918. âIt was not Rarely would such things be bought as is because they were so expensive, âShockley says. “It is likely that he [the mirror ball] had a brief life elsewhere before.