On a recent sunny Wednesday afternoon, workers unrolled spools of bright green sod over the bare earth in front of the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence.
The stately limestone structure, which opened in 1978 at 1301 Mississippi St. on the University of Kansas campus, holds more than 40,000 ancient and contemporary objects from all over the world, including many treasures from East Asia and the Middle Ages. And after an $8 million, 18-month renovation, the building is a masterpiece in its own right.
The new Spencer Museum of Art features a glass-encased east entryway that invites in sunlight. Step inside the doors and your eyes are drawn through the building to another wall of windows facing west to the forest-like Marvin Grove.
The museum’s redesign is the work of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, an internationally acclaimed architectural firm that also designed the glass and metal pyramid at the Louvre.
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Elizabeth Kanost, the Spencer’s communications coordinator, says the goal of the redesign was to invite in nature and encourage visitors to explore.
“We wanted it to feel like everybody’s space, like everybody’s museum,” she says.
A new staircase, elevator, glass-walled balconies and faux skylights in the museum’s central court lend to the museum’s new open, airy feel.
KU students will get a sneak peek at the transformation on Thursday, Oct. 6; the Spencer’s public grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 15, and Sunday, Oct. 16, will feature performances by dancers, a sketch artist, a kite-maker and the KU African Drum Ensemble, as well as a free pancake brunch on Sunday.
On Nov. 10, the Spencer will unveil “Temporal Turn: Art and Speculation in Contemporary Asia,” featuring 20 artists from eight countries. The international exhibition includes technology, science fiction and mythology.
Need another reason to plan a day trip to Lawrence this fall? Here are 10 of ’em.
The Levee Cafe
Since opening in late August, the Levee Cafe has become a bustling destination for breakfast, brunch and lunch.
The cute cafe is at 239 Elm St., just across the street from the miles-long trail that hugs the Kansas River — or as Lawrence residents call it, the Kaw. The dog-friendly patio is a popular stop for runners and cyclists.
The Levee’s scratch menu features lighter takes on diner classics such as omelets, hash browns and buttermilk pancakes. Try the apple crisp French toast ($8), stuffed with baked apples and topped with streusel.
Lunch is all about sandwiches — Reubens, Cubans, clubs — but the Levee also serves Salvadoran pupusas, handmade corn tortillas stuffed with beans, vegan cheese and veggies.
The Levee is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
The Lawrence Public Library
If you’re into architecture, put the Lawrence Public Library on your list.
The striking glass and terra cotta-clad building at 707 Vermont St. was dubbed one of the “most beautiful libraries in North America” by Tech Insider earlier this year. That designation came after the Lawrence library won a 2016 Library Building Award from the American Institute of Architects.
The Lawrence library, originally built in 1974, completed a $19 million makeover in 2014 courtesy of design firm Gould Evans, which has its largest office in Kansas City. According to the AIA, Gould Evans transformed the library into a “multimedia community hub” with a wraparound reading room that “provides a high-performance thermal envelope engineered to harvest daylight and reduce energy usage.”
Other amenities include communal meeting spaces, quiet rooms, a music recording studio and a coffee bar. Exterior features include a butterfly garden with benches and a lawn area used for outdoor movies in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
The Bourgeois Pig
The coffee company was established early this year by Ryan and Amy Pope, who also own the Bourgeois Pig — that’s “The Pig” to locals. The Popes source beans from growers in countries such as Guatemala, Brazil and Ethiopia, then roast them in small batches in a commercial facility at 900 New Jersey St.
The Pig serves freshly roasted Repetition coffee by the cup in many forms, from strong black pour overs ($3) to rich, foamy cappuccinos ($3) and sweet mochas ($4.25).
Spell of the Meadow
In August, Lawrence metalsmith Andiy Ransom opened Spell of the Meadow, a boutique at 15 E. Seventh St. that sells new and vintage women’s clothing alongside jewelry, accessories and natural body products such as soap and deodorant.
Like the store, Ransom’s jewelry is inspired by wild nature. Picture turquoise and other natural stones set in silver carved with flower, leaf, sun and moon shapes.
Crema Dolce Gelateria
The cash-only scoop shop serves Italian gelato, which is like ice cream but with more milk and less fat. Crema Dolce’s flavors change often. On a recent Wednesday, the freezer case was stocked with pumpkin spice, tiramisu, pistachio, hazelnut praline and red velvet gelato that tasted almost exactly like the cake.
Chocaholics should order the Oreo flavor ($4.50 for a medium cup), which is topped with crumbled bits of cookie. Grab a seat by the window for a great view of the historic Eldridge Hotel across the street.
The move made Wonder Fair more accessible pedestrians, who really crowd in on Final Fridays, a popular gallery walk held in Lawrence every last Friday of the month.
Wonder Fair’s gallery displays an ever-changing and colorful array of fine art, including many psychedelic rural landscapes by Kansas native Justin Marable. The shop sells Hammerpress cards alongside prints, journals, T-shirts, art supplies and offbeat home decor (Neil Degrasse Tyson pennant, anyone?).
Elevate Massage & Float Spa
Want to escape politics, social media and your to-do list for an hour? Float tank therapy might be just what the doctor ordered.
The relaxation therapy is now available at Elevate, a massage spa just south of downtown at 1403 Massachusetts St. Elevate’s float tank, which is in a dark, quiet room, is filled with a super-concentrated Epsom salt solution heated to body temperature. The solution makes bodies buoyant, which gives the “floater” a feeling of weightlessness.
According to Elevate’s website, 60 minutes in the “silky warm sea of bliss” leaves most floaters in a state of deep relaxation. A one-hour session costs $65 throughout the fall, or $60 on Mondays.
The Baker Wetlands and Discovery Center
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, take a short drive just south of town to the Baker Wetlands and Discovery Center, 1365 N. 1250 Road.
The center, which opened last year, is surrounded by trails and boardwalks that traverse the wetlands, a marshlike area that provides a diverse habitat for a wide variety of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and plants.
The trails have become popular for hikers, bikers and nature lovers, but on a recent morning those trails were mostly empty and quiet, save for the sound of wind rustling through cattails, rushes and sunflowers.
The DeBruce Center
Basketball fans shouldn’t leave Lawrence without checking out James Naismith’s original rules of basketball, which are on display at the new DeBruce Center, a sleek glass building that opened earlier this year at 1647 Naismith Drive on the KU campus.
To view the rules, which are typed on two yellowed pages, walk through the corridor connecting the center to Allen Fieldhouse, then push a button to temporarily illuminate the delicate document, which is protected by glass. Look close to make out guidelines that seem obvious now, such as “a player cannot run with the ball” and “the ball must be held in or between the hands.”
The DeBruce Center is also home to a gift shop and a student cafeteria; on a recent Wednesday, Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham towered over other students in the line for rice bowls and smoothies.
Lucia Beer Garden + Grill
Last month, Lucia Beer Garden + Grill opened in the former Fatso’s Public House & Stage spot at 1016 Massachusetts St.
The new bar has a beachy feel, thanks to reggae on the sound system, an ocean mural on the patio and Caribbean food on the menu. Try the sweet and savory plantain cups ($7), stuffed with black beans, avocado and mango, or the popular jerk chicken plate ($10), a spicy quarter chicken served with rice, beans and steamed cabbage.
Lucia also offers an extensive beer selection; a can of Jamaican Red Stripe ($4) seems like a fitting choice.