King Louie West to the Arts & Heritage Center

History of the Arts & Heritage Center

While the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center (AHC) has only been open for a few years, many county residents have known the building for decades. That is because the AHC now occupies what was once the King Louie West. The King Louie West is one of the most identifiable buildings in Johnson County, Kansas. It was a place that was built for making memories and enjoying the suburban lifestyle. How many thousands of children learned to ice skate there? How many thousands of adults bowled the evening away? How many birthday parties, office parties, or family gatherings took place at King Louie?

King Louie West

When Vic and Morris Lerner opened the King Louie West bowling alley in February 1959, they were taking a leap of faith. Perhaps more accurately, the Polish immigrant brothers were buying into the American Dream. The Lerners were hoping to sell suburban families the idea that bowling was fun for the whole family. It was not a sure thing, but it worked. The Lerners opened a major addition to the building in 1964: the Ice Chateau. 

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Conceptual drawings for the King Louie bowling alley (1959) and Ice Chateau addition (1964). The King Louie West operated for nearly 50 years, closing in 2009 as AMF Bowling.

 

The addition—which converted the whole structure to the Googie Style of architecture, most popular in California in the 1950s and ‘60s—made the King Louie West building an architectural icon. The undulating roofline line facing Metcalf. The angular stone façade. Gigantic wooden glulam beams (a massive building with no interior support columns). The metal spire at the entrance. The Lerners chose the Googie Style because it was eye catching, modern, and just downright cool. 3 JOCO-2273

Wooden glulam beams soaring over the 1954 All-Electric House in the Johnson County Museum. (***Photo courtesy of Bob Greenspan Photography).

The Arts & Heritage Center is Born

The Johnson County Museum, in need of a larger, better, safer building to house its collection and exhibits, proposed the King Louie in 2011. When the County began renovating it in 2015 for the Arts & Heritage Center (AHC), there was no way that those unique features would be lost. It was because of the architecture and the importance of the King Louie in suburban Johnson County’s memory that the site was chosen.

The AHC project was not without controversy—big, County-funded projects rarely are. Controversy was not new to the King Louie building, either. When the Ice Chateau addition was proposed, it also caused a major stir. At the same time Prairie Village was floating the idea of a tax-payer funded, outdoor ice rink. The competition between Prairie Village and Overland Park was fierce, but in the end Prairie Village voters defeated the idea 2-1. The Lerners were free to move ahead with their ice rink at King Louie on Metcalf. In a similar way, the AHC overcame years of naysayers and criticism.

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Conceptual drawings for the Arts & Heritage Center by SFS.

Remembering the History

The renovation of the King Louie was completed with a sensitive touch. Subtle but clever, the themes for the AHC sections are an homage to their previous use (and their color choices are pulled from a 1960s palette, too). The art and dance classrooms today were once the billiards and game room—their graphic representation is taken from pool or billiard balls. The Theatre in the Park’s black box theater occupies the old bowling alley, and so its theme is taken from the lines and triangles on a bowling lane. The Museum sits on the floor of the old Ice Chateau. Its motif are white slashes on a gray background, imitating the marks of skates on ice. What’s more, physical slashes remain on the concrete floor of the Museum’s collection storage room, once the site of the ice skate rental! 

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A portion of a mural, once located in the skate rental, remains behind the drywall inside the Museum Classroom. Ice skate scrapes in the Johnson County Museum’s collection storage (Mural photo courtesy of Bruce Bandle Photography).

While the use of the King Louie West building has changed, its intent has remained much the same: a place for Johnson County’s families to gather and make memories. Gone are the bowling alley, billiards tables, and ice rink, yes; but here instead is a county museum, community theater, community art gallery and Commons gathering space, meeting rooms and event rental facility with catering kitchen, and fine and performing arts classrooms, studios, and dance studio for young and old. Since opening in June 2017, the Arts & Heritage Center has welcomed more than 160,000 visitors each year! How many new memories are being made here every day? We hope you will come and check out the AHC when you are able!

The Arts & Heritage Center as it appears today (Photo courtesy of SFS).

The Arts & Heritage Center as it appears today (Photo courtesy of SFS).