The 2021 Derby Party at the Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., was a grand affair on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. While many have been waiting months for a pandemic to lift and return them to in-person celebrations, supporters of the museum have been waiting years for a chance to peek inside the historic mansion.
The annual themed fundraiser hosted by the Kansas City Museum Foundation benefits the Kansas City Museum, but more exciting than ever for those who have been following Corinthian Hall’s extensive renovation and restoration, this year’s Derby Party coincides with the museum’s reopening on October 21.
“I’m so excited. I know that their community and everybody at the museum has been very excited about this day and October’s going to be a fabulous month,” said Eric Bosch, former City Architect. “I can’t wait for people to come see what we’ve done. You can tell that the people are really hungry to go see just a sneak peek of what’s really going to happen in October.”
Dressed as bohemian goddesses and with the glamour of one of Gatsby’s famous parties, guests embraced a decade of opulent fashion. Contests were held for best dressed, best hat, and best face cover. Guests had the opportunity to take a self-guided, masked tour through Corinthian Hall. While exhibits are not yet in place, they will be installed by the October public reopening.
With the fortune of the late summer rain lifting just hours before the event, even the lawn was dressed for the occasion, including a masterful balloon creation stretching to the top of the property’s largest tree and bubbles floating through the air alighting on sequined headbands, skimmer hats and feather boas.
Festivities on the historic grounds included live music by Grand Marquis, southern food bites by Brown & Loe, and beverages with Kansas City labels such as, J. Rieger & Co., Les Bourgeois Vineyards, Bourgmont Vineyard & Winery, Boulevard Brewing Company, and Torn Label Brewing Company. Poppy’s Ice Cream & Coffee House appeared on wheels as guests mingled and explored the on-the-spot photo booth by Picwood and played yard games.
It was obvious to guests that the museum will soon be a destination not just for Kansas Citians, but for the region. With years of work and millions of dollars in investment, Mayor Quinton Lucas said the excitement he saw in his fellow guests was fabulous.
Along with the physical restoration of the space, the museum’s focus when curating exhibits and programming moving forward is to tell the whole story.
“I think we’ve had a lot of conversations over recent years about history needing to be more complete, folks being left out,” Lucas said. “Too much of it, though, focuses on the negative of what’s left out instead of actually bringing it together. God bless Anna Marie, God bless this museum for actually saying, ‘We are telling a story of Italians moving to Kansas City, of Black Americans who came to Kansas City, of folks who had been here years before,’ and saying this is how we build a dynamic and exciting region, and in many ways, how this is this is the core of what Kansas CIty is today whether you’re in KCMO Northeast, Olathe, Liberty.”
Residents of Northeast, many of whom paraded in costume from their homes to the event, marveled at how many people they didn’t recognize. As activities return and the opening date is set, Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association President Chris Binkley and real estate agent and Director of Scare-It Halloween Dylan Van Gerpen have the bigger picture in mind, namely what the museum’s reopening means for attracting people to Northeast.
“I was married here, actually a couple years ago, so I am extremely excited and it’s been a long time overdue,” Binkley said. “I am fascinated for it to actually be something I can come to with friends and family.”
The annual Derby Party attracts hundreds of guests from across the metro area each year. Van Gerpen said that events like this really just break down all the stereotypes.
“I think it helps people rediscover Northeast that might not live here,” Binkley said. “The narrative is dominated by – a lot of times – outsiders, people who have never experienced the area. With like 40-, 30-year-old information they talk about it like they know it. I think it’s exciting to bring people in to rediscover it for themselves, to say, ‘Is it as other people told you it was?’”
They agreed that when it comes to Northeast’s neighborhoods, tourism isn’t thought of enough.
“I think COVID dealt a blow to the Northeast harder than most other neighborhoods…” Binkley said. “This area is primed and ready for kind of a resurgence because it’s got culture that, quite frankly, other neighborhoods – as they talk smack on Northeast I’m like, ‘Alright cool, so I at least have history, I have culture, I have people who are interesting.’ It’s far more interesting to raise a family or just be a person in this area.”
As for the huge role the historic neighborhoods play in the growth and redevelopment of Kansas City, Van Gerpen compared Northeast to a little Ellis Island, welcoming people from all over the world before they move on to other areas of the city. They’re looking forward to the neighborhood exhibits and the museum’s intentional effort to tell the whole story.
“Nowhere else in the city can you have an attorney who lives in a castle a block away from a Congolese refugee, and they live relatively harmoniously,” Binkley said. “Do we have issues? Yeah, but no more than other communities have, but the benefits and things you get to enjoy, this [museum] being one of them… It provides you the amenity and benefit of having the neighborhood connections that not only are interesting, but you feel connected to them. I just love it.”
All funds raised at the Fifth Annual Derby Party directly support the museum’s programs, exhibitions, and experiences that build awareness of the City’s rich history and cultural heritage.
“I’m also really excited that we have this construction fencing up that’s soon going to have banners that tell you what’s coming for the other stages as we mobilize to start on schematic design for the Carriage House, Conservatory, and James Turrell Skyspace,” KCM Executive Director Anna Marie Tutera said. “I am very excited about the momentum because we’ve just got to keep going.”
Corinthian Hall, which was built in 1908 by Robert A. Long, became a museum in 1940. Earlier this year, its management and operations were turned over to the Kansas City Museum Foundation.
“Thank goodness for these folks that worked with the team to have a vision, because you’ve got an old house here, it’s got issues – because that’s what happens over time – but if you have the vision, that’s what helps it actually become a reality,” said Kent Dicus, president of Northeast Kansas City Historical Society.