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Even if Kansas City removes Corinthian Hall from Union Station's management and assumes control of the constantly under-construction mansion at 3218 Gladstone, the future of the Kansas City Museum is murky. How will the city raise the $20 million to finish renovation of the Northeast estate? How will City Hall manage a collection of 70,000 artifacts, most of which Union Station claims to own? And if those things can be figured out, who will be in charge of the Kansas City Museum?
Kansas City lumber magnate and philanthropist R.A. Long built Corinthian Hall in 1910 for $1 million (roughly $23.6 million in today's figures). The Beaux Arts mansion became his family's home until his death in 1934.
Long's survivors went on to found Longview Farm in Lee's Summit, eventually resulting in a vacant Corinthian Hall in limbo. It wouldn't be the last time.
Pressure from the Great Depression prodded the Long family into deeding Corinthian Hall to the Kansas City Museum Association to display the city's history. But the association discovered that the museum was not a profitable enterprise.
In 1948, the museum association sold the property to Kansas City for $1 but still held title to the collection of artifacts in the first of many vaguely worded contracts that would bedevil the ownership of the city's historical collection, a problem that persists today. In 1976, the last of three efforts to move the Kansas City Museum out of Corinthian Hall and into Liberty Memorial or Union Station failed. But one thing passed that year: a mill levy that would direct property taxes for the Kansas City Museum, which remained in Corinthian Hall. Today that mill levy raises about $1.4 million a year.
By the 1990s, the restoration of Union Station became a major civic priority, enough so that a sales-tax increase was passed on both sides of the state line to fund the restoration. Again, the Kansas City Museum was slated for a move to Union Station to become the refurbished depot's lead tenant. The thinking at the time was that an interactive science museum (Science City) would draw huge crowds, more than a collection of the city's history would.
That led to a 2000 merger between the Union Station Assistance Corporation and the Kansas City Museum Association, creating Union Station Kansas City Inc. The combined organization's articles of incorporation do not reference the Kansas City Museum or Corinthian Hall; it reads more like the description of a real-estate development company than a museum entity.
Meanwhile, the city considered turning Corinthian Hall into the mayor's home or perhaps a conference center. However, the Kansas City Museum remained there.
Union Station's renovation lost money early on. Science City didn't attract nearly the number of paid visitors that were projected.
The focus on Union Station while Corinthian Hall — a building that needed $13 million in work — languished irked Northeast residents and revealed cracks in Union Station's relationship with Corinthian Hall.
Former Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Kay Barnes convened a task force to, among other things, figure out how to raise money to renovate Corinthian Hall. That led to the formation of the Kansas City Museum Advisory Board, a city-appointed group of volunteers that would oversee how the $1.4 million in annual property-tax revenues were spent and advise the city on upgrading Corinthian Hall.
The KCMAB didn't work well with Union Station, waging turf battles over Corinthian Hall's future. Union Station argued that it was doing what it could with Corinthian Hall, while the KCMAB believed that it was being neglected. The behind-the-scenes tensions became public in 2006 when former City Council member Deb Hermann discovered that Union Station had sought to trademark the phrase "Kansas City Museum."