Metcalf Avenue landmark to become Johnson County Museum’s new home

Johnson County is buying the building at 8788 Metcalf Ave. — former home of Ice Chateau and the King Louie West bowling alley — to become the Johnson County Museum’s new home. The structure features funky 1960s architecture, including an atomic-like spire marking the main entrance.

Johnson County is buying the building at 8788 Metcalf Ave. — former home of Ice Chateau and the King Louie West bowling alley — to become the Johnson County Museum’s new home. The structure features funky 1960s architecture, including an atomic-like spire marking the main entrance. by Sara Shepherd

The Johnson County Museum of History’s newly announced future home has ample square footage, high ceilings, historic significance and visibility along a major thoroughfare.

It also has an Overland Park address.

The Board of Johnson County Commissioners on Thursday approved a $2 million purchase contract for 8788 Metcalf Ave. — former home of Ice Chateau and the King Louie West bowling alley — to become the museum’s new home. The museum could leave its Shawnee facility, 6305 Lackman Road, as early as 2014.

The new building is a first-step toward transforming the institution into the National Museum of Suburbia and Suburban Policy Forum identified in the museum’s master plan.

“We are still working with the county commission on how this all could transpire, but we’re very confident that it could work very well for the National Museum of Suburbia,” museum director Mindi Love said.

Love said the bowling alley was first built in either 1948 or 1959 — museum officials are trying to verify conflicting accounts — and that the ice rink was added in 1965. Architect Manuel Morris designed both.

The KCModern blog describes the structure as “a rare remaining example of Googie architecture in Johnson County.” Bold angles, colorful signs, plate glass, sweeping cantilevered roofs and pop-culture imagery characterize the style, which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Googie Architecture Online.

“Many people spent a lot of time in this building,” Love said. “It has a lot of historical integrity in that way, and it’s certainly an architectural icon in Johnson County.”

Functionally, the ice rink and bowling alley are “open canvasses for exhibition design,” Love said.

The building has high ceilings, 70,000 square feet — close to the amount the museum identified would be needed to realize the National Museum of Suburbia — and expansive spaces with no support beams in the way.

The building has sat vacant for the past few years, with Ice Chateau closing in 2007 and King Louie closing in 2009, according to a press release from the county.

On top of the $2 million purchase price, the county authorized $1.6 million to stabilize and minimally maintain the structure to prevent further deterioration until it can be renovated for the museum to move in, the press release said.

The museum has proposed constructing or purchasing a new location for several years, but no building acquisition was included in the county’s 2012 Capital Improvement Program. Love said the county planned to take the $3.6 million from either its cash reserves or debt service fund, with that to be decided before Dec. 30, the deal’s anticipated closing date.

Love said the museum planned to present the board with renovation options and estimated costs in the spring. At the earliest, the museum could move its current exhibits — including the 1950s All-Electric House — by mid-2014, she said.

Even with a new home, growing the museum into a National Museum of Suburbia is going to take a few more years and a lot more cash.

However, Love said, securing a new location is a critical springboard to begin the fundraising process. She said the museum’s goal is to raise $9.6 million, ideally in three years, for the expansion.

In the meantime, she said, nothing other than regular maintenance is planned at the Shawnee location, a 1927 school house that has been added onto about nine times. The museum has operated there since 1967.

Shawnee city manager Carol Gonzales said she was disappointed to see the museum leave but that she was happy for its opportunity to grow.

“Obviously we hate to lose them in Shawnee and wish there had been a place for them here,” she said, “but we understand the current site has limitations for their future.”

It’s too early to tell what will become of the Lackman Road property, which the county owns, Gonzales said.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.

By Sara Shepard

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