Published May 19th, 2020 at 9:53 AM
Demolition of the historic former Board of Education building at 1211 McGee is expected to begin soon, although its owner remains open to finding a new home for the colorful mosaic murals adorning it by the late Arthur Kraft.
Developer Jon Copaken of Copaken Brooks, which purchased the property last September, said interior demolition is near completion and the final razing of the nine-story building is expected to begin within a couple weeks.
“There are a host of environmental issues we’ve been abating and remedying,” he said. “The HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) and everything else was shot, and the windows would have to be re-skinned.
“It was a building of its day, but it was not built for the next generation of use.”
Two years ago, the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation listed the building as one of 15 “Places in Peril” in Missouri. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but does not have local landmark status to protect it from demolition.
The preservation group described the building as having been designed in the mid-century modern style of Mies van der Rohe by prominent local architect Edward W. Tanner. It opened in 1960.
In a statement, Lisa Briscoe, executive director of Historic Kansas City, said her organization regrets the decision to raze the building.
“This building is an outstanding example of the Modern Movement: International Style — specifically the influence of Miesian design,” she said.
“Recent changes to the federal and Missouri historic tax credit programs contributed to thwart several renovation proposals. The historic structure would be demolished in connection with a proposal at 13th and Grand, which thus far remains a proposal.”
The razing of the Board of Education building would be the second demolition of a mid-century modern building in downtown in recent months. The former IBM Building completed in 1957 at 1400 Baltimore has been razed to make way for the new Waddell & Reed office project.
One mid-century modern tower did recently receive a new lease on life. The former Traders National Bank Building at 1125 Grand was redeveloped as a $65 million apartment project called The Grand. The 21-story tower originally opened in 1962.
The Board of Education building has been empty since its namesake tenant moved to Troost Avenue four years ago. It also had been the home of the Downtown Public Library until it relocated to its new home about 17 years ago.
Copaken said the vacant building also has become a magnet for vagrants and vandalism despite efforts to keep it secured and boarded up.
Copaken Brooks is not the first private developer to decide the old building couldn’t be reused. Drury Hotels decided against saving the building two years ago when it was pursuing a plan for a hotel on the site. That deal failed to move forward.
When the firm purchased the property, its plan called for razing the building and reserving the block for future development. The firm also owns the block immediately west at 13th and Grand, representing a large development site next to the Sprint Center.
The Board of Education building and its adjoining garage occupy a full block from 12th to 13th streets between McGee and Oak.
“We feel we’re enabling two key blocks to be available near the Sprint Center for future development,” Copaken said.
As for the Kraft mosaic murals, Copaken said his firm has had conversations with several organizations and groups, including the new Downtown YMCA under construction and the Crossroads Academy, but the estimated $100,000 price tag to remove and relocate the artwork has been challenging.
“I have spent more time on the murals than the demolition itself,” he said. “We want to preserve them and have them open for public view.”
Kraft, who died in 1977, was one of Kansas City’s more accomplished artists with works that were displayed in major national museums as well as collected locally. The bronze penguins at Country Club Plaza are among his sculptures.
The mosaic murals he created for the Board of Education building depict circus scenes, and were located at the entrance of the former children’s library.
“The mosaics are affixed to a concrete wall,” Copaken said. “Cutting that out, removing it and preserving it in one piece is really expensive.
“We continue to work with groups, but we don’t have anything worked out with someone who can pay to get it down.”
The developer said his firm plans to cut the murals out and store them on site until a future new home can be found. One intriguing suggestion has been to reuse them for the new airport terminal being built at Kansas City International.
“I think that’s a great idea and if people would want to talk to us it would be great,” Copaken said.
Briscoe said Historic KC wants any future development on the site to respect its surrounding architecture.
“Historic Kansas City recognizes the need for downtown to evolve and adapt to a changing set of office, retail, and economic circumstances,” she said.
“We are not adverse to development but want it to proceed in a manner that reflects the historic and scenic nature of the Civic Mall plan, that includes the three iconic art deco designed buildings, City Hall, Municipal Court and County Courthouse.
“Whatever the future holds for this site, any infill development proposal must be compatible with the Civic Mall plan.
“Further the colorful historic glass mosaic tile murals should be preserved in consultation with the Kansas City Municipal Art Commission.”
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is founder and publisher of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.