KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Preservationists are trying to devise a plan to save a former Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios building in downtown Kansas City that was once part of what was known as Film Row, where several studios set up movie distribution offices.
The MGM building that once housed film reels and movie salespeople is now a vacuum warehouse in the Crossroads district. Other studios, including Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios, operated out of the neighborhood, one of about 30 “Film Row” neighborhoods established nationwide after World War I in response to increasing demand for movie theaters and entertainment.
Mehdi “Dave” Daee, who runs American Vacuum Co., bought the MGM building in 1992 and uses it to store merchandise for his eight stores. He said he currently doesn’t plan to sell it because its location is convenient as a warehouse for his business.
But Historic Kansas City says the building is threatened by neglect, which might lead to its condemnation and demolition. It has placed the building on its “Most Endangered” list the last two years.
The preservation group tried unsuccessfully to save an Orion Film building in the neighborhood, but it was demolished in April 2013 and replaced by a parking garage.
The bigger goal is to devise a strategy that protects the building and the entire Film Row area. For now, Historic Kansas City’s efforts to establish a protected historical district - “a really difficult process” - is on hold, said Stephanie Frank, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
MGM got the first lease on the current building in 1929. The art deco style structure could hold 15,000 film reels and a small theater. Sebring and Co. owned the building from 1969 to about 1990, and it sat vacant until Daee bought it two years later.
Jerry Fogel, of real estate firm Kessinger Hunter, handled the sale of the MGM building and the nearby United Artists building. He said MGM’s sales pitch emphasized the building’s fireproof, concrete vaults, fortified with steel, that stored potentially explosive film.
“It was fun to be challenged by them, but they didn’t sell for big dollars because of the fundamental obstacles inherent in the buildings,” he said. “That’s what they were used for: Things where you could compartmentalize your inventory and do your picking in an efficient manner.”
The building has been scarred by graffiti, bricks are missing or cracked, and windows have been blacked out. It has a history of property code violations, but Daee has paid fines and fixed the violations, according to the city.
“We want the building to be saved and preferably restored,” said David Johnson, president of the Crossroads Community Association.
Cydney Millstein, an architectural historian in Kansas City, said the building had “a lot of character for a modestly designed building.” She doesn’t believe it’s endangered but acknowledged its importance.
“If you start erasing individual buildings from a larger district, you’ll lose the historical and architectural context,” she said.
Daee said part of the roof on the second floor will be fixed before the fall, but he has no other definite maintenance plans. He said he was aware the building had some connection to MGM but wasn’t aware it was historic until he bought it to store vacuums for his eight stores.
“We do try to keep it halfway clean, but the problem is we’re not there,” he said.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com
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