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Magic House Request Riles Some Kirkwood Residents

The Magic House is looking to extend its evening hours for outdoor activities, a move that has received mixed reactions from residents.

At the most recent meeting of the Kirkwood City Council, Beth Fitzgerald, president of The Magic House, asked councilors to approve an amendment to its special use permit that would extend the museum's evening hours for outdoor activities in front of, and behind, the building.

The amendment would allow outdoor activities in front of The Magic House-St. Louis Children's Museum year round from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. It would also allow outdoor activities behind the front building line from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 1 through Oct. 31 and 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. November 1 through March 31.

Some residents who live on Angenette Avenue, a street adjacent to the museum, spoke out against the proposed amendment at the April 21 meeting of the city council. They said loud music blaring after 8 p.m., conversations overheard on the museum's loudspeaker, and picnicking in their front yards are just some of the instances of what they've had to deal with since the museum's expansion in December 2008.

"Every time they've expanded, I've been told that 'This is the last time,'" said Angenette Avenue resident Julie Allman, who noticed Magic House patrons picnicking on her front lawn after an outdoor event. "We feel like we are defending our neighborhood from The Magic House."

Another Angenette resident, Miriam Joseph, noted that annual Magic House attendance has risen drastically following each expansion. In 2000, annual attendance at the museum was 385,000 visitors. The number of annual visitors had increased to 530,000 in 2010, according to Sara Kahre, senior marketing manager for The Magic House.

"Most major museums are not tucked into a neighborhood," Allman said. "It's a very rare case for The Magic House."

After recent tornadoes and with increasing attendance, the museum sought to amend its special use permit with the city, passed into law in 2000. In March, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the changes. In addition to the hours for outdoor activities, changes include:

  • Replacing the storm damaged wood fence on the eastern property line with an 8-foot sight-proof concrete wall;
  • A public announcement system to communicate with visitors
  • A sign reminding attendees to "please respect our residential neighbors" and to park only in designated lots.

Supporters of The Magic House amendment also spoke at the meeting, citing examples of other nonprofit organizations, like Mudd's Grove and St. Gerard Majella that often host evening events without controversy.

"These are the sounds of a city that's alive and well," said Paula Burdge, director of visitor services at The Magic House.

Karen Drexler, who has rented the museum for events on behalf of the Kirkwood School District, also spoke in support of the museum.

"The Magic House is a Kirkwood treasure, shared by children and families across the country...and I'm saddened to think that Kirkwood would not fully embrace what it has to offer."

Outdoor activities at The Magic House include fundraisers, as well as fitness and outdoors education events for children, according to Kahre. For instance, if the amendment before councilors passes, Fitness First Fridays would be on the first Friday of every month from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Local sports celebrities from the St. Louis Rams and other teams would come and teach kids the importance of staying active, Kahre said.

The City Council decided to delay the first reading of the bill until its next meeting on May 7.

Kirkwood Boy April 29, 2011 at 04:55 PM
The residents were there LONG before the Magic House; it is an invasion driven by economic greed. Perhaps Karen Drexler and Paula Burdge would like the "sounds of a city that's alive and well" abutting their homes? I think not.
Karen Stevenson April 29, 2011 at 05:15 PM
The Magic House has been a fixture in Kirkwood since 1978 and most residents that live around the museum moved in after The Magic House opened its doors. The residents knew that the museum was there and chose to move in anyway. The Magic House, a treasure for the entire St. Louis region and revered across the country as one of the best family attractions, is only asking for visitor to be allowed outside in their front yard, not the back yard where the residents reside. It is unfair for every other area of Kirkwood - parks, restaurants, etc to be allowed to be outdoors after 8pm and not The Magic House. To have an ordinance for only The Magic House is not right or lawful. If The Magic House continues to not be able to allow their visitors outdoors in the evening, then the ordinance should apply to EVERYONE and EVERY PLACE in Kirkwood. There are sure to be other areas in Kirkwood where residents can hear the sounds of commercial properties and the businesses are allowed to continue with their outdoor activities. The Magic House should be afforded the same rights as every other business and attraction in Kirkwood.
Karen Stevenson April 29, 2011 at 05:24 PM
The Magic House opened in 1978 - I would guess most of those residents moved in after that. And economic greed? The Magic House is a not-for-profit museum - no one but the children and their families profit from The Magic House with the memories that are made there. Drive around Kirkwood during the evening on the weekends and you will hear plenty of sounds all around Kirkwood - except around The Magic House. What about the families that back up to Target, or the people who live next to Kirkwood City Park or the city pool, or the train station?
laurie April 29, 2011 at 10:54 PM
The Magic House IS a treasure in our community. Our photo albums are full of great memories from that place! That said, they could offer to keep an eye on the noise volume, the type and content of the attractions ... And I am inclined to agree that an outdoor loudspeaker reminding people that it's 30 minutes to closing time/ 15 minutes to closing time/ The Magic House is now closed ...would make any resident want to tear their hair out if it was a nightly ocurrence. Maybe the speaker system could be kept inside...
Carola Gloyd May 01, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Agreed. The Magic House is as much an integral thread in the tapestry of Kirkwood as the trains that run right behind my home. The people of Kirkwood have actually requested The Magic House to make these requests on our behalf! We want MORE social events at The Magic House, outside, and later in the evening. These events are great for Kirkwood. Hooray for The Magic House!

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