News » Feature

Preservationists try to keep the Crossroads' Film Row off the cutting-room floor



Page 2 of 3

But the plan faded from memory as city leaders focused on the arena and the Power & Light District. Former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes tells The Pitch that she doesn't even remember the Old Film Row plan.

"Regrettably, I don't recall the history of the 2005 concept," she writes in an e-mail.

Butch Rigby, owner of Screenland Theatres, says the Crossroads' slow, organic growth into a hip arts district made many in the Crossroads leery of any proposal to commercialize the neighborhood.

"That was right at the time when the Crossroads was really starting to bloom," says Rigby, who first bought property there in the 1990s when the neighborhood was filled with vacant buildings. "And you had a lot of artists, who were pioneers themselves, who liked the organic growth. What you had was a lot of people saying, 'Oh, you're going to make this Hollywood. You're going to make this touristy.' "

Not wanting a tourist trap in the burgeoning Crossroads Arts District may have made sense in 2005. But without a neighborhood organization pressuring building owners to keep up their Film Row properties, or a unified push to get the district on the National Register of Historic Places, buildings like the Orion became endangered.

Film Row advocates are now taking a more measured tack than the 2005 blueprint. Kirk Williamson, the owner of a massage studio in Brookside and a film-history enthusiast, plans to start a nonprofit, Friends of Film Row, to chart the district's future.

"There were concerns about it becoming cheesy or a little too flashy," Williamson says of the original plan. "Those kinds of design considerations started to split the camps."

Williamson plans to keep modest the initial goals of Friends of Film Row, hoping to unite businesses, building owners and preservationists in an effort to bring more film-production and film-industry companies to the area.

"What if Film Row had a functional vision versus just a historical vision?" Williamson asks. "That could be something that's done right away. To me, the ideal Film Row is, whether or not the illumination of the historical aspects of Film Row that were outlined in the 2005 plan take place — to me, the other layer is, it's got to be this functional entity."

Williamson has since applied with the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation to have Film Row recognized as "at risk." He cited the Orion's destruction as the main reason to place the district on Missouri Preservation's annual Watched List. "Since the owner of the Orion building owns three other Film Row buildings ... has pursued the purchase of others, and has demonstrated every intention to not be a team player with the spoken interests of the Crossroads Community Association, the Historic Kansas City Foundation, and others regarding the Orion, we have no choice but to mobilize every tool possible to come to the defense of our beloved Film Row buildings," he writes.

Missouri Preservation added Film Row to the list in late May.

Most of the buildings in Film Row are cared for and occupied by a variety of tenants, from printing companies to yoga studios. Historic Kansas City Foundation Executive Director Amanda Crawley says a decent occupancy rate now doesn't mean the district's long-term future is secure.

"Some of these buildings probably are immediately threatened," she says. "Most of them are in use, but there's no guarantee to say that in 10 years some of these buildings won't be threatened. Really it's about devising a long-term protection strategy."

Crawley says without the Orion going down, people might not have thought about protecting the old buildings. "The loss of the Orion building, I think it called to people's attention the possible need for a protection strategy for the rest of Film Row," she says.

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Add a comment