Architecture
3:34 pm
Fri February 8, 2013

Do Cities Need Old Buildings, Even If They're Not 'Historic'?

A proposal is in the works to tear down the Orion Pictures building in the Film Row District in the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, Mo. and put a 180-space garage in its place. But some say the 1946 building should be preserved.

The Orion Pictures building is not on the National Register of Historic Places.  Neither is Kansas City's Film Row District, although it's one of the few remaining intact districts in the country. The building is owned by philanthropist Shirley Helzberg, who’s looking for more parking for businesses in two other buildings she owns: Webster House, an 1885 school, and the Vitagraph Film Exchange building, a 1930 Art Deco building.

Helzberg restored these downtown buildings, as well as the Blossom House, a mansion built in 1882. She told the Kansas City Star: "As much as I love historic preservation, no one could come up with a viable use of that building (the Orion) and come up with a parking solution."

In a proposed 180-space garage, 100 spots would be reserved for visitors shopping and dining at Webster House; other spots would be available to Kansas City Symphony musicians and the public.

Architectural historian and preservation consultant Cydney Millstein helped place one of Helzberg's downtown buildings, the Vitagraph, on the National Register. Millstein says she hopes the wrecking ball is not the only option for the Orion.

"This isn't a hit you in the face type of building in that it doesn't scream of a particular architecture style in the way that say the Power and Light building does or Municipal Auditorium. But it is important architecturally," argues Millstein. "I think we have to start looking at the more vernacular styles of these greater architectural idioms once again and recognize how important they are for Kansas City."

Others share Millstein's view - a campaign has started up on Facebook called "Save the Orion Pictures Building." But, according to the Star, "Helzberg's planned garage is on a fast-track schedule. Tomlinson (with Helix Architecture & Design, who designed the three-level $5 million structure) said she (Helzberg) hoped to have it completed by this year's holiday season."