Historic Athenaeum building changes hands – but remains a women’s organization


The Kansas City Athenaeum Club said it has sold its 101-year-old building at Linwood and Campbell to the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority DEED Foundation. Both groups are describing the transfer of the historic building as a perfect fit for the site with a century of history and now a past and a future involving important women’s organizations.

Since 1914, the Greek Revival clubhouse has been the hub of activities for the women’s organization and a landmark Midtown building. But the Athenaeum organization, like most similar groups nationwide, has been facing shrinking membership. From a high of about 1000 members in the 1930s and 40s, the group now has about 40. Those remaining members began discussing the sale of the building as long as ten years ago and put it on the market last summer.

It was not an easy decision, according to the group’s communication chair, Susan Jezak-Ford, because the building was so much a part of the group’s identity. But now that a new owner has been found, the Athenaeum is very happy to have found a group that will love the building and keep it up. ­And it is even better that the new owner is a group with a similar mission.

“This is a perfect fit. We are thrilled to have another female-oriented group take over the building,” Ford says.

The Athenaeum organization was founded in 1894, during a period when  women across the country were forming groups to study and do philanthropic work. Members raised the money to erect the club building and moved in in 1914. While the neighborhood changed around it, the building with its pillared entrance and stained glass windows has remained pretty much untouched.

 More about the Athenaeum’s history

Ford, a preservation consultant and resident of Hyde Park, says the building maintains its original floor plan and has been well cared for over time.

For the group, deciding to sell the building was a hard decision, according to Terry Miller, Athenaeum Club House Company Board President.

“Some felt the building was who we are,” he says. But Miller was among those who thought the group could be more effective in its charitable work if it no longer had a building to maintain.

“We had to have a fundraiser at least every other year to pay for the heat and keep the doors open,” Miller says.

He, too, is pleased that the building will still be in the hands of a women’s organization.

“It was built by women,” he says, “and it will continue in that tradition.”

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority is the largest African-American women’s organization in the country.  Its 200-member alumni chapter sponsors an annual Cotillion, a youth development and scholarship program to enhance the academic, social, cultural and civic awareness of selected high school seniors from the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. Other programs are geared toward African American girls and community service. Its DEED foundation was set up to purchase a building.

Lisa Hardwick, vice president of the foundation, says it had been looking for a building for 17 years. During that time, the DEED Foundation had been raising funds and looking at properties around the city.

When the Athenaeum Building became available, it felt to Delta Sigma Theta, too, like a perfect fit because of the history of the building.

“The cornerstone was laid there in 1913. That’s the same year our society was founded,” she says.

The foundation does not plan to make major changes to the structure of the building. It will not be moving walls, Hardwick says, although it does plan to make the building ADA accessible next summer.

The new owners took over the building on Nov. 19 and held their first meeting there Nov. 21. Hardwick says the group will use the building for Cotillion activities, and its Delta G.E.M.S. and Academy programs. It also has partnerships with the Women’s Employment Network and the Full Employment Council for programs there. She adds that the space will still be available for event rental as it has been in the past.

The group plans to lease the first floor of the building to another educational foundation with a focus on children.


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