Historic house near art institute is finally coming down

Donaldson House at 4347 Oak, across the street from the Kansas City Art Institute, has belonged to the school since 1967, but the institute said it hasn’t been able to find a way to use it. Despite attempts to find a developer or even move the house, demolition is scheduled to begin December 19.

After a long fight for preservation, demolition of Donaldson House near the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) will begin on December 19.

Preservationists say the house is a rare local example of Shingle-style architecture. It was built in 1901 as a single-family home, and given to the art institute in 1967. The Southmoreland neighborhood and the Historic Kansas City Foundation have fought to keep the wrecking ball away, but in the end, they admit the battle is lost.

According to a statement on the Southmoreland neighborhood website, the institute first asked the city Landmarks Commission for permission to tear down the historic property in 1999, but later withdrew its request. In 2004, the institute considered a mixed-use project on the site that would retain the house. Later, the art institute offered to sell the house for $1 to anyone who would remove it from the site.

But finally, the school has decided to move ahead with its plans to demolish the house. Anne Canfield, vice president of communications for KCAI, said the institute just couldn’t figure out how to use the house productively.

“We’ve visited and revisited how to make it usable. This decision has been a long time in coming,” she said.

Art institute officials say many old homes are part of their campus, including Mineral Hall, just across the street from Donaldson House. But the institute said it has not been able to find a use for this house, and it needs the land for future student housing.

Canfield said the art institute has been able to repurpose several other older buildings and homes on its campus and in the surrounding neighborhood, and also has converted some warehouse space and a former grocery store into studio space. She said the problem with Donaldson House is that it is chopped up and not conducive to studio space, which is the school’s greatest need.

Canfield said there is no timeline for what will be built there in the future, but it will most likely be student housing. The institute currently requires most freshmen to live on campus.

“We think there’s an interest among other students for housing close to campus,” Canfield said.

The Historic Kansas City Foundation issued a harsh statement this week regarding the demolition plans. It acknowledged there is no legal reason the art institute cannot proceed with demolition, now that it has completed a mandatory waiting period imposed by the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Although there is no remaining legal obstacle preventing demolition, our community should expect better outcomes and practices from KCAI concerning their land use and facility needs. Demolition also (and always) flies in the face of responsible sustainability practices, something else we should be able to expect from an institution sensitive to the public interest,” the statement said.

The foundation placed Donaldson House on its 2011 Most Endangered List and facilitated several walkthroughs with potential buyers.

Canfield said before demolition begins, the Historic Kansas City Foundation will document the interior and exterior of the home. The institute plans to save the stonework around the curved front porch and salvage the front door for use in whatever is built on the site in the future. But the foundation said in its statement that more effort could have been made to find a reuse or an investor to move the house.

“Institutions often make decisions based on some alleged financial metric, while other considerations – cultural, social, and environmental – are neglected or ignored. This is a loss for the Southmoreland neighborhood and our entire community,” the statement said.

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