By Kevin Collison
The driver of a black Dodge Charger crashed the renovation party underway at the historic Laugh-O-Gram building near 31st and Troost over the weekend, leaving a hole in the structure and the project budget.
“The last thing we expected was someone running into the building, we’d been making good progress,” said Gary Sage, who leads the building development committee at Thank You Walt Disney, the nonprofit behind the endeavor.
The driver fled the scene of the accident that occurred about 4 a.m. Saturday, leaving behind the partly-embedded car. Sage said police found a woman’s driver’s license and an open margarita in the car. The front end was buried in bricks.
“She’s lucky, because an I-beam fell out,” Sage said. “She punched a hole in the side of the building that will be the main entrance and part of the second floor above it.”
It’s too early to tell how much the repairs will cost, but Butch Rigby, said the damage didn’t appear to be structural. Rigby launched the effort to save the building where Walt Disney started his cartooning career in the early 1920s before heading to Hollywood.
“The bottom line, it’s a bump in the road, but it could have been worse,” Rigby said. “Nobody was apparently hurt in the car and it didn’t hit a structural post which would have been a problem.”
The car also hit scaffolding erected by Dello Eco, the firm hired to to repair the bricks and mortar of the facade of the building at 1127 E. 31st St., formally called the McConahay Building.
The facade work is being paid for by $150,000 left from a pledge by Diane Disney, Walt Disney’s late daughter, along with $160,000 in public tax-increment financing funding available.
It was designed by Nelle Peters, a pioneering woman architect, and opened in 1922. It was in advanced deterioration and slated for the wrecking ball when the Thank You Walt Disney organization purchased it in 1996 and launched the Laugh-O-Gram effort.
Last winter, backers of the project announced they’d come up with a financially viable strategy for redeveloping the property.
It calls for to be renovated for multiple uses: a small theater and exhibition space dedicated to Disney and his fellow animators; a Plexpod co-working space and a digital media training center run by KC IMAGINE.
The redevelopment of the historic building is part of a wave of investment occurring in the adjoining commercial district along Troost.
Organizers had hoped to begin a capital campaign for the remainder of the restoration project this month, but will probably have to delay fund raising until a better estimate is available of the total cost.
Rigby said that since news broke over the weekend of the accident, about $6,000 has been donated on the Thank You Walt Disney website.
Sage praised peoples’ generosity, but added more likely will be needed to fill the budget hole caused by the accident.
“We can sure use it at this point, we’re trying to get some sense of what it will cost,” he said.
“We hope this drives sympathy and awareness of what we’re trying to do with the building.”
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