The R. A. Long Residence, “Corinthian Hall” Date: Completed 1910 Dimensions: approximately 35,000 square feet on fi ve levels
Windows, Doors and Restoration of the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall
In the restoration of historic buildings doors and windows, windows are especially prominent and significant features to be addressed in the building’s fabric. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Secretary of the Interior both place enormous responsibility on the doors and windows to clearly convey the position of the building in its social, political and economic contexts. Many developers and restorers of historically important buildings consider the windows guidelines of the local, state and federal agencies to be a great challenge. At times the importance placed on these elements and the perceived difficulty or cost of compliance have caused people to avoid or decline a project adhering to the guidelines. The agencies are seen by some as frustratingly excessive and inflexible in their demands. I personally love these guidelines and believe them to be fitting and correct in establishing the importance of windows and doors in the outcome of a final restoration. Attention must be paid to details, suitable suppliers and contractors need be located and proper means and methods for restoration, repair and replacement must be followed. If and when these guidelines, goals and objectives are achieved the results are clearly seen and felt in the completed project and are handsomely rewarding on many levels. The current interior shell demolition at Corinthian Hall is an exciting event and certainly will encompass all the challenges and rewards of this phase of the project. As can be imagined the windows and doors in this building were of architectural importance. They were originally designed to showcase significant aspects of the building’s design and function. When complete I believe the current project will make clear to visitors, Museum Friends, neighbors and of course City and Museum staff the benefits of having undertaken the window replacement hewing to the highest standards.
Windows and doors signify many varied aspects of old buildings. Just like all segments of architectural design and construction there are many levels of quality and impact to which an element can aspire. Dollars, dollars, dollars always determine the results, and plenty of dollars were available to the Longs for the design and construction of Corinthian Hall. The windows and doors were first class. As in many buildings of scale the first floor public areas contained the most developed and elaborate details, and the levels of finish diminished higher up or the further away from public and family areas. Servant’s and service areas have the lowest levels of finish or designed architectural details. Corinthian Hall even in its least momentous areas, however, contain doors and windows of highest quality. The pronounced reduction in detail shows only in the trim work details; the overall material and functional quality were maintained at the exemplary levels throughout. Certainly an ‘old world’ sense of design is apparent in the first and parts of the second floor areas where “casement windows” are used. Unlike typical double-hung sash windows, where two wood frames hold glass and are locked in a frame and move up and down, casement windows are seen typically in European buildings. The windows operate as doors, hinged on the sides and opening either in or out. The casement window is a complex architectural detail and creates conditions requiring special construction and design attention. If the windows open out, screens are on the inside, and must be designed to complement beautifully appointed rooms with hardwood finishes. The hardware: hinges; bolts that secure one window while the other opens and closes; locking systems; comfortable and secure handles; all were designed with the greatest care in Corinthian Hall. Even a little study of these details clearly reveals the attention to quality, longevity and functional beauty.
I certainly view old buildings as something close to “old souls.” I believe they capture, contain and over time begin to describe the nature and feeling of what has occurred in them. They are a living historical record capable of conveying a sense of time and a history of human interaction. If you can imagine an old building in this manner you can understand that certain parts, like the roof, the walls or the floors are the primary actors describing this contained passage of time. For me, the doors and windows are the heart and heartbeat binding together these other elements. They are the components that allow the outdoors to be kept out and the inside, in. Unlike roof, floors and walls however they are designed to be manipulated by occupants who choose the timing and duration of admitting the living breathing world and its light, air and heat. Corinthian Hall had this interaction removed for many years, it now has its first opportunity to live and breathe and interact in a very long time. Most of the upper floor windows had been completely covered; doors and casement windows had been nailed shut; walls blocked nearly every spot meant to admit light and air. All this is changing, now. The demolition is removing such obstructions, revealing pathways and passages, giving meaning back to areas of the house that lost it long ago.
Museums, houses, houses as museums… how do these ideas and functions go together? Does a museum want air or light to come in? I suppose the answer is yes and no. Certainly any curator will say too much of nature’s elements in a museum are a bad thing. Ultraviolet light can destroy objects, wind and humidity can damage artifacts, rainwater is certainly almost never a good thing in exhibits.
Corinthian Hall is entering a new and significant phase in its ‘old building’ life. The building feels happier again, I can sense a bit of the drama that was expected of this house after its construction. An old building that lives and breathes, sees and is seen, is more engaging and inspiring for both observers and occupants. Corinthian Hall is on a journey to return to such drama. Over time, the rules have changed in the world of museums-as-houses and houses-as-museums. A living, breathing building filled with light and air does not have to be feared. Details of design are more important than ever. Many questions: how do we control U.V. light?; how do we control air temperature and humidity?; how do we manage the interactions between our Collection, nature, visitors and our living building? represent our new challenges. People want to see and feel the architecture and what it means, they want to partake of the contained social-historical drama, and, mostly, people want to see the Collection interpreted to describe our shared human history. A living, breathing building gives an inspiring chance to achieve these goals. There is already a good roof, there are good walls outside and, thankfully most of the floors are intact. So the heart, the heart beat, the mechanisms to pump and breathe life into this old building body now need be lovingly addressed. Once new doors and windows have been installed and have established respect for their quality and significance, other parts will happily fall into place. New life means new chances.
‘Sick Building Syndrome’ is a modern malady. Buildings that do not breathe are not healthy. Old buildings were designed like the human body, to protect from the elements, to
live and breathe. To do this they must be fed.
Corinthian hall has been hibernating for a very long time, but this is changing now. we have a chance to revive this architectural friend and to allow this house to take us on a new journey of discovery. Corinthian Hall is ready and I hope we’re all ready, too. The re-awakening has begun: architects are at work, specialty contractors have been hired, new windows and doors are on the way. Let’s remember our long-slumbering friend must be nourished with new ideas, new supporters, new visitors and new ways to enliven this remarkable building as a home of curation and display.
I love old buildings. I've always had an easy time seeing their plights and feeling their desires, especially when they are in their worst condition. it’s now that the best qualities: of understanding and compassion, the human hunger for education, mystery, drama come through to me so clearly at such a historic place. so many opportunities and questions are posed, now, at Corinthian Hall. I hope we capture this happy chance and let it take us far.
ADAM JONES IS A WELL KNOWN HISTORIC PRESERVATION ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNER AND DEVELOPER. A 1982 Kansas City Art Institute graduate, Jones has been involved in historic preservation and reclamation projects locally, nationally and globally. His preservation and restoration projects in Kansas City include the Hotel Monroe, a former Thomas J. Pendergast hotel at 1904 Main Street, The Carnival Building at 800 Broadway and the Rieger Building at 1924 Main. Jones was the architectural designer and developer for the historic Hotel Frederick in Boonville, Mo. and is currently working on a historic private residence project in a mountain village outside of Tehran, Iran.
Jones was one of the first historic developers to see the need to “Go Green,” particularly through the reuse of surviving historic building materials. In 1983 he adopted the practice for all his projects, and soon became a source of such materials for other builders. In response to growing demand, Jones opened Foundation, at 1221 Union in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. Foundation specializes in supplying salvaged architectural elements and building materials to the trade, and to the general public.
The Community Curator program of Kansas City Museum invites historians and history educators from the Kansas City community to share their perspectives on artifacts they choose from the Museum collection. Community Curator lectures are presented with the actual artifact presented along with the observations of our Community Curator.