Paul Greenberg

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It's been a while, about 50 years, since I was here. It was usually on one of those weekends when the fraternity's pledge class would head out to the nearest big city. Half of us headed west to Kansas City, the other east to St. Louis. I was always in the Kansas City contingent. After all, it was one of those places Where the West Begins. It had vistas, fountains, parks, river walks, the old Muehlebach Hotel, Kansas City sirloin and prime rib, and, sweetest and soulfulest of all, the Kansas City blues. Who could resist?

On one visit, a blind date who had a sense of humor gave me her street address: 4525 Oak. I drove up the spacious driveway promptly at 7, whereupon she stepped out from behind the pillars of the impressive mansion and came flouncing down the short set of concrete stairs. Quite an entrance.

It didn't take me long to realize the young lady had emerged from theshadows of the William Rockhill Nelson Art Gallery - a 1930ish example of what might be called industrial classical. Back then, it had stood in solitary dignity. Much has changed since, not necessarily for the better. Now a couple of gigantic Claes Oldenburg shuttlecocks have been plunked downon the once wide, unbroken expanse of lawn - as if the visitor had interrupted a gigantic game of badminton.

More unsettling, a kind of big, segmented tube has been attached to the stately old museum. Like a vermiform appendix. It looks like the standard airport concourse, only without the personality. I kept looking for the screen showing Arrivals and Departures. The new addition goes on and on likesome huge nematode, raising the fear that, even if you cut it in half, eachof the halves would just grow back again.

The new addition is as unfixable as some amorphous Thing From Another Planet in a bad sci-fi flick. It makes quite a contrast with the old museum it'sbeen attached to like a parasite. Old dignity, meet new shapelessness.

The architect's statement we're handed proudly compares the new addition with the original, much to the disadvantage of the original, listing qualities for each:

Original . . .                                   New . . .

Opaque                                        Transparent

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.