The East Entrance — Courtyard and Colonnade
In 1922, when Harry Sophian broke ground for Sophian Plaza, the neighborhood aesthetic was dominated by the sweep of Warwick Boulevard, the natural beauty of Southmoreland Park, the mansions of William Rockhill Nelson (Kansas City Star) and August Meyer (silver mining), and grand homes of dozens of Kansas City notables. Nelson and Meyer were perhaps KC’s biggest advocates for the City Beautiful Movement. Harry Sophian was a product of the NYC neighborhoods surrounding Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the primogenitor of the City Beautiful Movement. Sophian’s NYC turf was the Upper West Side, one of the most prominent areas in the country to promote beaux-arts apartment building design, a new form of elegant living for the well-to-do in the early decades of the 1900s. Harry Sophian was the perfect developer to envision a stylish apartment building on the corner of Warwick Boulevard and Brush Creek Boulevard (now Emmanuel Cleaver II Blvd) that fit within the aesthetic of the neighborhood.
The 1982 listing of the Sophian Plaza on the National Register of Historic Places asserted “The scale, location, and Beaux-Arts design make the Sophian Plaza an imposing example of the high-rise luxury apartments. … The Sophian Plaza, with its majestic appearance, provides a strong visual anchor to the southern boundary of the Southmoreland Neighborhood, in keeping with the precepts of the City Beautiful Movement.”
The building was expressly designed to take advantage of the vista of Southmoreland Park. The East Entrance Courtyard and Colonnade visually connected the natural beauty of Southmoreland Park, through an airy light-filled lobby, to a colonnaded rear patio. When the Sophian Plaza opened, the Kansas City Star gave it front-page treatment, February 25, 1923 (the Sunday real estate section), featuring multiple photos of the East and West colonnades.
Sophian Plaza is now a condominium. Its 46 unit-owners, as the homeowners’ association (HOA), are vested with the care of this building nearly 100 years old. The owners’ commitment has been enduring.
The Restoration Project
After years of exposure to the elements, natural weathering and freeze-thaw deterioration began to occur in the cast stone of the entablature above the front columns, with architrave, frieze, cornice, and balustrade compromised. In 2008, the HOA contracted to repair the decaying colonnade. To their dismay, the work was inadequate, and the deterioration was exacerbated. Undeterred and committed to preservation, in 2019 the HOA returned to the repair of the East Entrance Colonnade. The HOA engaged Thomas Rewerts, building engineer to carefully design the repair, and Mid Continental Restoration Co., general contractor, to carry out the work meticulously, and Architectural Cast Stone to replicate the cast stone with precision.
This restoration project consisted of complete removal and replacement of all decorative cast stone units above the column capitals within the colonnade, as well as the structural concrete beam in which they were anchored. Minor areas of localized deterioration at the column capitals were also repaired by hand patching.
Each deconstructed cast stone unit would be shipped to the restoration stone fabricator in West Chicago. This required cataloging of more than 170 individual artifacts with precise recordkeeping of coursing and layout in order to ensure that the new beam and stone units would align to their original configuration. Various techniques ranging from mold casting to 3D scanning were used to replicate each unit that comprises the 100-year-old entryway. The work was performed with the building at full occupancy.
The HOA is pleased that the work has been completed so well, and in time for the centennial of the building in 2023. This project is part of the HOA’s continuing effort to maintain and preserve the building. More projects are planned in the near future.