For Anna Marie Tutera, the Kansas City Museum is much more than a place to work.
“My first house was across the street from the Kansas City Museum,” she said. “I very much remember coming to the museum as a child. The museum always was kind of a big part of our lives. My mom, who’s now 88, still talks about how proud she was and my family was to live across the street from the Kansas City Museum.”
Since becoming the executive director of the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall in 2014, Tutera has given her mother another reason to be proud.
Tutera has spearheaded a seemingly never-ending renovation effort that will culminate Oct. 21 when Corinthian Hall fully opens for the first time in more than 13 years. That means an entire generation of Kansas City youth has missed out on the experience that Tutera had, when the longstanding historical attraction in the Northeast Area drew thousands of student field trips each year.
About $22 million from private and public funding has been spent restoring and updating the 34,0800-square-foot beaux-arts mansion that was built in 1910 as the private residence of lumberman R.A. Long. Major construction began in 2017, although the building has been largely closed for restoration since at least 2008.
Tutera said the renovation process actually began in 2005 with planning and other preparations.
“This team has been on this project since spring of 2014,” she said. “And then previous to that other teams have worked toward this goal for many, many years.”
It is a huge step to finally reopen the museum’s primary structure but hardly the last step. Four more buildings will be restored: the carriage house (which will become a hub for equine history), conservatory, horse trainer’s home and carpenters tool shed.
Meanwhile, visitors will view all new exhibits about Kansas City’s history and heritage on three floors of galleries encompassing more than 10,000 square feet of exhibition space. There will be permanent installations as well as changing exhibitions, with digital technology playing a major role.
First-floor galleries will be devoted to Long and his family, including his daughter, equestrian legend Loula Long Combs. The timeline of the city’s history will begin on the second floor and continue on the third, where it will conclude with the present day.
“It really brings the past, present and future together and features the cultural heritage of Kansas City,” Tutera said.
“The whole experience is different.”
The building itself, however, retains most of its original architecture.
“It was really important for us in the beginning that we worked to integrate the modernization of the building and the contemporary aesthetic into the historic property,” Tutera said, “so that we didn’t compromise the historic integrity of the building.”
New offerings will include a 48-seat theater and a boutique, as well as a café and soda fountain that won’t open until 2022 because of pandemic precautions.
The first changing exhibition will focus on the building at 31st Street and Gillham Road that began life as the El Torreon Ballroom and later became the Cowtown Ballroom, a music mecca in the early 1970s. The building’s story will be told through the mirror ball that hovered above dancers and concert-goers through the years. (It wasn’t ready the day our photographer visited.)
“So, it’s basically an exhibit where you walk into this space and you see the mirror ball, and then that mirror ball, that singular object, leads to a multiplicity of stories,” Tutera said. “It is absolutely spectacular. And it will give us a chance to talk about Kansas City’s music history and nightclub history.”
Tutera not only grew up in Kansas City, but she also served as executive director of the Wornall House and its sister facility, the Alexander Majors House, before taking over at the Kansas City Museum. So she is intimately familiar with the city’s history.
“I’m really proud of the stories that we’re telling … because we’ve chosen stories that are often untold, about Kansas City’s history and its people,” she said. “The immigrant experience, that hits the closest for me because my paternal grandparents immigrated from Italy and maternal grandparents immigrated from Croatia.
“Bringing things to light, illuminating these stories, is a big part of the experience, and looking at Kansas City’s racial, ethnic, cultural history and heritage is a priority. And then also understanding Kansas City today.”
The Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., reopens on Oct. 21. Hours will be 10 am.-8 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free except for special events. COVID-19 protocols will be in effect at least through December, including mandatory face masks and timed tickets. See kansascitymuseum.org or call 816-702-7700.
The museum’s first public program will be the eighth annual Día de los Muertos Celebration, in partnership with the Mattie Rhodes Art Center, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 23. Tickets ($5 for adults, free for children 12 and under) are required.
KC Museum timeline
1910: Construction is completed on the mansion of lumberman R.A. Long at 3218 Gladstone Blvd.; designed by architect Henry Hoit, it is called Corinthian Hall after its six Corinthian columns; the compound includes six buildings in a full square block; Long lives there with his wife, Ella, and their daughters, Sallie and Loula.
1913-14: Long builds Longview Farm in Lee’s Summit.
1934: Long dies.
1939: Long’s daughters donate the property to the newly formed Kansas City Museum Association.
May 5, 1940: Kansas City Museum opens.
1948: The association deeds the property to the city.
1950: The conservatory (which housed plants) becomes the R.A. Long Planetarium. It is repurposed as the Storytarium after the Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium opens at Union Station.
1954: “Eskimo Land,” featuring an igloo and two polar bears, opens on the third floor of Corinthian Hall.
1970s: The museum produces all new exhibits on Kansas City’s history, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with a plan for more exhibits on the third floor, but NEH funding dries up.
1978: Corinthian Hall is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1980s: The third floor is shut down because of fire code issues.
1987: The museum revives the tradition, started decades earlier at Kline’s department store, of the Fairy Princess.
2000: The Kansas City Museum Association merges with Union Station Assistance Corp. and becomes Union Station Kansas City Inc.; Union Station’s leadership takes over operation of the museum.
December 2007: Officials announce the museum will close for renovations in January 2008, though it continues to offer public programs, off-site exhibits and special events.
2007-10: The city spends about $10 million to fix the roof, doors, windows and outer walls and to install a new heating, air conditioning and ventilation system.
December 2013: The Kansas City Council agrees to transfer management of the museum and its collections from Union Station to the city parks department.
May 1, 2014: Anna Marie Tutera takes over as executive director of the museum.
2015-17: The museum is open for hard-hat tours, public programs, temporary exhibits and special events as planning for a $22 million renovation is finalized.
May 2017: The museum closes for renovation.
November 2017: J.E. Dunn Construction begins work at Corinthian Hall.
May 2021: The Kansas City Museum Foundation, which had been founded in 2009, takes over operation and management from the parks department
Oct. 21, 2021: The Kansas City Museum will reopen Corinthian Hall to the public.