Liberty Memorial: A Preservation Project That Almost Didn't Happen

Tuesday, November 3, 2015: 10:05 AM
Presenter: John Waite, FAIA, FAPT , John G. Waite Associates, Architects PLLC, Albany, NY
Liberty Memorial:  A Preservation Project That Almost Didn’t Happen

Liberty Memorial is one of the major landmarks of Kansas City.  An unusual combination of architecture and public art, it was constructed between 1921 and 1926 as the principal United States memorial to World War I.  Of national and international significance, it was designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonigle and the surrounding landscape by Fredrick Law Olmsted.

 In 1998, because of its deteriorated condition, the citizens of Kansas City voted to raise their sales tax to pay for its restoration.

 Design for the restoration was initiated by Abend Singleton Associates Inc. architects under the direction of the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department.  In March 2000, the project ground to an unexpected and abrupt halt.  Members of the Historic Kansas City Foundation sent a letter to the City Council asking that the project be stopped because they disagreed with the proposed architectural and restoration treatments.  This request was supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the U.S. committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.  If the project were to continue, it was suggested that the property be removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

 In order to break the deadlock, the Parks and Recreation Board engaged John G. Waite Associates, Architects PLLC to review the proposed design and prepare a historic structure report and historic landscape report for the Memorial and grounds.  Based on this work, modifications were made to the basic design as well as to some of the building conservation treatments including steel windows, elevators, masonry cleaning, and plaster.  However, JGWA concurred with the basic approach to the project and evaluated it for compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

 As a result, the project proceeded and was not held up by opinions based on personal whim or uninformed impressions.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006 and received a National AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture for the restoration.  In 2014, President Obama signed legislation recognizing Liberty Memorial as a national memorial.