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Interview w/ Polis: Municipal Auditorium (1936) in Kansas City

Interview conducted by Logan Sloniker, Civil & Architectural Engineering student at Missouri University of Science and Technology. Logan was conducting research for his Historic Preservation course. Good luck with your project Logan!

LS: How long have you been a user of/been around Municipal Auditorium and in what capacity?

CA: "In some capacity I have been a patron of Municipal Auditorium (MA) for approximately 25 years. I have only been to a few formal events including performances at the Music Hall and a couple of basketball games in the auditorium."

LS: How would you describe Municipal Auditorium in your own words?

CA:“MA is a grand space, built at a time where Nationalism was very ‘moderate’ in that Patriotism was shared by both conservatives and liberal democrats in similar fashions. The exterior is the epitome of nationalism and early modernism, (in the sense of Bauhaus) with its imposing symmetry and subtle details integrated with the poured concrete. I really love the layers of symbolism that are present. As you walk around the building you see symbols and characters that have become associated with Art Deco, but have their roots in ancient symbology (Egyptian, Greek, Roman). The symbols of the comic, tragic, liberty and civic consciousness indicate the design of public space during the period. Even in the name “Municipal Auditorium” we understand the space is intended to serve a distinct purpose for the city, or the people. During this period of the 1930s/1940s many localities across the globe gave their public auditoriums this name. I believe this comes back to the sense of nationalism that I mentioned earlier, as the country was experiencing the Great Depression and had a very different sense of camaraderie and civility than we experience today. “

“The interior is one of the most elegant spaces in Kansas City—it leaves you feeling as if you might be in a New York City or a Weimar Republic German building. The lush and warm tones of the Streamline and Art Deco golds, burgundy, use of granite & marble, aluminum and bronze fittings is definitely indicative of a very specific period of time in architecture. [Shared similarly in City Hall & Jackson County Courthouse]. “

“Another very special feature of MA is the dichotomy of the imposing exterior footprint and the intimacy of the interior spaces. The Little Theater is reminiscent of an ancient temple with the octagonal entrance (more symbology to consider?) and second level mezzanine. Music Hall creates even more intimacy with the vivid red and enveloping theater. The tiers leave every in the theater a desirable location. I personally love the clean lines! Oh, and the paintings! A strange blend of almost socialist realism, with the abstractness of modernism—the paintings in Music Hall are one of the few features that bring visually into the space definite themes of nature and the spiritual. “

LS: How is Municipal Auditorium important to you? Do you have any personal stories/memories of Municipal Auditorium (events, visits, etc.)?

“My first experience at Municipal Auditorium was when I was in second or third grade (1992/93). My aunt and uncle took my cousins and me to the Shriner’s Circus. This was very special event as a child and I distinctly remember being fascinated by the clocks at either end of the auditorium (which seemed much larger as a child). Buildings and space have always been a favorite of mine.”

“As a young adult in March 2007, I moved to Downtown Kansas City to the Library Lofts at 10th and Wyandotte. At this point in MA became part of my neighborhood and a daily fixture of my life since it was located on my walking path to work, my workout routine and on the bus line. As an urbanist and maybe just because I am a nosey, I would often add MA to my walks if the doors were open in the evening a wander as far as I could with out getting into too much trouble. “

LS: Over time, have you noticed any significant changes to the facility, and how do you feel about these changes?

CA: “The biggest change to MA that dos not set well with the preservationist and design critic in me was when the city decided to remove the vintage red lettering on the marquee boards. I think this was a grave mistake in terms of design…The vintage elements were replaced by scrolling digital signage (that I am pretty certain is not even LED caliber and do people really spend that much time reading a scrolling sign?). This was done approximately in 2012/2013 around the time that there was a sign ordinance passed regarding the digital signage in neighborhoods as well as commercial buildings. After this ordinance passed, it seemed that an overwhelming amount of overly bright signage appeared in the Downtown area. A great majority of the new signage did not integrate with the existing buildings in which they were placed.“

LS: Do you believe that this facility will continue to stand the test of time and serve the future generations of Kansas Citiians or is it susceptible to replacement or significant renovations/modernization?

CA: “Unfortunately, in Kansas City, I think that Historic Preservation ‘tactics’ such as historic designation are primarily used for spaces that run the risk of being destroyed. Kansas City does not have a strong culture of elevating history and design unless there is an economic benefit. With that said, I think that Municipal Auditorium, being a city owned space and due to its association with Pendergast and the large scale planning efforts of creating magnificent public spaces (including City Hall and the Jackson County Courthouse) will not be see threats anytime soon. The cult obsession with Pendergast will preserve these spaces. “

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