UMKC Seeks Ideas to Revitalize Historic Epperson House

UMKC is seeking proposals to save and reuse the old Epperson House mansion at 5200 Cherry.

By Kevin Collison

UMKC is seeking ideas to save and revitalize the Epperson House, a vacant, century-old former mansion on its campus that’s been a repeat nominee on Historic KC’s most endangered list.

In recent press release, the university stated it was seeking “creative solutions to restore and reopen” the Collegiate Gothic-style mansion. Construction on the home of philanthropist Uriah Epperson started in 1919 and was completed in 1924.

It’s not the first time UMKC officials have sought ideas for the property and in its latest solicitation, there was no indication about how the university might be prepared to assist what would likely be a multi-million dollar restoration plan.

“At this point, we’re soliciting ideas,” said John Martellaro, spokesman for the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“We don’t have any kind of dollar figure we’ll put forward. We’re just saying if you have an idea, we’re more than willing to listen.”

Martellaro said UMKC has no plan to demolish the mansion, which has been vacant for about 10 years, if no viable ideas are submitted.

“We are committed to making every possible effort to preserve this Kansas City treasure,” he said.

Epperson House has been a perennial nominee to the Historic Kansas City Most Endangered Places list.

“Epperson House has great potential,” according to Historic KC.

“A collaboration among philanthropic, state, and local officials, developers, and preservationists will be necessary for a full restoration and 21st-century adaptive reuse of this local landmark.”

The Great Hall or living room of Epperson House as it appeared in 1926. (Photo from UMKC website)

The 56-room mansion was designed by architect Horace LaPierre, according to Historic KC. Epperson lived in it for only a few years, and it then became the property of one of his business associates, J.J. Lynn.

Lynn donated the building to what is now UMKC in 1942. During World War II, it housed aviation cadets. Following the war, it became a dormitory in 1949.

It began its life as classroom space in 1957, when it became the school of eduction. In its last years before closing, it housed the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design.

And in a more colorful chapter, the old mansion has been described as possibly being haunted by UMKC.

Developer Vincent Gauthier of URI|Authentic City, once taught at Epperson House as an adjunct professor and also has considered it previously for potential redevelopment.

“It was built to the finest standard of its time,” Gauthier said. “Cosmetic things need to be fixed, but the parts of the building that are primary from a historic tax credit point of view, they’re in good shape.”

Gauthier said the old mansion’s layout lent itself to be potentially repositioned as an event and conference center. The three-level building once had a swimming pool on its ground level and has a flexible, open floor plan that could serve a variety of uses.

It’s main floor still has many of the features of its days as a residence including the former library, living room, smoking room, dining room and an indoor-outdoor terrarium. The third floor is a honeycomb of bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways.

One of the major challenges to restoring and reusing the old mansion is retrofitting it to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The mechanical systems also must be upgraded.

Gauthier estimated it would cost $8 million to $12 million to renovate Epperson for new uses.

In naming the old mansion to its most endangered places list, Historic KC described it as having fallen into state of disrepair.

“An article published by University News in 2013 detailed the state of neglect the building had suffered, including deteriorating stained-glass windows, water damage and crumbling crenellations on the house’s tower,” Historic KC reported.

UMKC is asking parties interested in submitting ideas for Epperson to contact Bill Haverly, university director, facilities planning design & construction, at Proposals will begin being reviewed at the end of January.

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  1. I used to teach a course in parapsychology at UMKC and, as a part of that, I was granted permission to lead my class on an investigation of the Epperson House, in order to train students on how such investigations were conducted. Interest in the paranormal has never been higher, and many historic properties are now allowing investigations by paranormal research teams, which are willing to pay for their time spent on the property. This has become a new and lucrative revenue stream for many such historic properties.

  2. Let the art students have it. I’m sure the Department of Art & Art History wouldn’t mind moving in, especially if UMKC goes through with the long term vision as laid out in their 2021 Master Plan. If they move UMKC Gallery there too, then walking there would be much easier from the Streetcar terminus and student housing—not to mention Rockhill Garage (which means no more camping outside the Atterbury Student Success Center just for a parking spot!). This would also bring more foot traffic to The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, which is full of underutilized still-life subjects. It could also give UMKC a similar appearance of ‘prestige’ that KCAI has like with Vanderslice Hall; except with the added effect of art being produced inside a big mansion, instead of next to a little one.

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