Johnson County museum, 1950’s all-electric-house moving to new county building
The Johnson County Museum and the popular 1950’s all-electric house in Shawnee will be moving to the recently approved Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.
The Johnson County Commission voted 4-3 on March 12 in favor of turning the King Louie building at 8788 Metcalf Ave. into the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center. The building, which had previously been proposed to be turned into a National Museum of Suburbia, will now house a variety of attractions including Shawnee’s soon to be former historical attractions.
After debates that have lasted about four years, the County Commission approved plans to renovate the 1960s-era King Louie building as a multi-use cultural center that will also serve as a permanent location for early voting. The commission voted to finance the project that will cost $22.2 million with bonds that will cost the county $1.5 million a year for 20 years. The grand opening for the project is scheduled for the spring of 2017 with the potential for the building to be used as a voting site as early as the August 2016 primaries.
The county had been under scrutiny as to what would happen to the historic building after its purchase in 2011. Two years before that, the County Commission had begun looking for a new home for the county museum located at 6305 Lackman Road.
The museum building in Shawnee was built in 1927 and suffers from flooding and persistent mold problems. Mindi Love, the museum’s executive director, said the building’s stone foundation and age have been the reason the county has been looking for a new location for almost 10 years.
“Our goal was not to leave Shawnee, the goal was to find a more suitable home for the museum,” Love said.
She said the county attempted to purchase land adjacent to the current museum several years ago but was unsuccessful.
Voting in favor of the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center were Chairman Ed Eilert and commissioners Steve Klika, Ron Shaffer and Jim Allen. Voting against it were John Toplikar, Jason Osterhaus and Michael Ashcraft.
Allen once led a task force to keep the museum in Shawnee several years ago but has voted consistently over the past two years to move the museum to the King Louie building.
“It is a great asset for Shawnee but the building just has a lot of issues,” Allen said. “Unfortunately there wasn’t a site in Shawnee that we could have moved it. That would’ve been my preference.”
The 1950s all-electric house, originally constructed by Kansas City Power & Light electric company in 1954, is a five-room ranch house that was constructed as a model home in Prairie Village. The house was represented the model of futuristic living at the time and has been a visitor favorite.
Kevin Fern, Executive Director of the Shawnee Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he understands the need to move the museum based on the current building’s problems. He said is excited for the community as a whole to have the new cultural center, even if it takes away from some tourism traffic in Shawnee.
“We like having them and hosting them in Shawnee and we are disappointed to lose them, but I understand that they were limited as to what they could do for improvements,” Fern said.
Creating the cultural center at the King Louie building solves several problems that the county has been trying to address. The museum will have a new, larger home. Voters will have a set, permanent voting location that will not change from year to year. Theater in the Park will be able to have a theater in the building, allowing it to hold performances in the winter. It will feature event space for community rentals, and there will be classroom space for county programs and camps that focus on dance, music and the arts.
The county bought the 76,000-square-foot King Louie building for about $2 million after it sat closed for two years following its previous life as a bowling alley and skating rink. The empty structure needed $1.6 million in repairs to weatherize it and keep it from deteriorating. An appraisal done after the purchase said that the best use for resale for the property would be to demolish it.