Corinthian Hall in Kansas City on the rebound

Friday, July 25, 2014 | 4:28 p.m. CDT
The main staircase of Corinthian Hall rises on Sunday in Kansas City. The site is the once and future location of the Kansas City Museum.

KANSAS CITY — Several dozen Kansas Citians got a close-up look this month at the status of the area's ultimate rehab project: Corinthian Hall, the once and future location of the Kansas City Museum.

It's a messy process, as any weekend do-it-yourselfer knows. Many of the rooms in the century-old home on Gladstone Boulevard have been whittled to exposed brick and crumbling plaster, with temporary lights strung across ceilings and old woodwork stacked in corners.

Yet there were tantalizing hints of what might be, too.

The sun streamed through stained-glass windows above the indoor porch. New air-conditioning ducts funneled cool air into the library. Original marble gleamed.

"It's good to see it down to the bones," said Jeff Zumsteg, who lives a few blocks from the historic structure. "It's good to see it getting ready for progress."

Zumsteg was part of a director's "hardhat" tour of Corinthian Hall. It was the first such tour for executive director Anna Marie Tutera, who assumed supervision of the facility following its split with Union Station in May.

"The purpose is to get people back to Corinthian Hall," she said. "To build awareness about the restoration project that we have ahead of us."

To date, Kansas City has spent about $10 million to refurbish the hall and surrounding outbuildings. The money has paid for a new roof, windows, ventilation and plumbing, among other things.

But there is much work to do. Tutera says it may take $40 million more — plus five years of discussion, engineering and planning — to fully restore the home and outbuildings to their former glory.

The task is complicated by ongoing, conflicting views about how the reopened home should be used. Some want visitors to experience the hall much as lumber magnate and original owner R.A. Long would have: as a residence. Others see the home as a museum exhibit hall and potential entertainment and gathering space.

Kansas City is now examining those options and others.

"How much do we restore, and how much do we create anew?" Tutera asked.

Finding a way to pay for the renovation is also part of that equation.

Some taking part in this month's tour say all those questions will be easier to answer now that Corinthian Hall is under city control. It had been supervised for years by Union Station, but all sides agreed to a complicated breakup earlier this year.

"We want them to get it right," said Veda Rogers of Kansas City, whose husband once worked at the home. "It's important to Kansas City."

Long built the home in 1909. It became the city's history and science museum in 1940 and played host to countless tours for children and adults.

It was closed to the public in 2008, though tours remain available.

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