National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City is a joyfully renovated shrine to playthings

A temporary exhibit at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures features pedal-powered cars such as these racy models.
A temporary exhibit at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures features pedal-powered cars such as these racy models. paul@kcstar.com

When visitors return to the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures on Saturday, they will discover what a difference a yearlong renovation and an $11 million capital campaign can make.

With a bright and fresh new layout and a wholly transformed exhibit strategy, the museum, at 52nd and Oak streets, can now make a justifiable claim as an essential destination for locals and visitors alike.

Already considered something of an understated gem, especially for its formidable collection of dollhouses and extraordinary bounty of miniature objects, the 32-year-old museum was long in need of updating. Its old heating and cooling system was not up to the job of protecting the thousands of pieces in the collection.

As the museum board considered that essential investment, it raised the bar by committing to a complete overhaul. The original Tureman mansion has been cleared out, save for administrative offices and event spaces. The building’s two later additions now house the main attractions.

With the help of Helix and West Office Design, the museum now reflects two major redesign ideas.

For one, all the miniatures are housed on the first floor, and toy exhibits spread throughout the second floor. A first-level introductory space makes a clear and important distinction between the two collections, board chairman Vincent Gauthier told The Star this week.

The other improvement is the addition of educational and interpretive labeling throughout the exhibit areas, to provide helpful context, history and important provenance material. In the past, visitors were left with little to go on, except their eyes.

The toy floor includes permanent exhibits that highlight a chronological history — from old board games to the Xbox — and the business of toys. The second floor also includes two new temporary exhibit spaces. Featured for the next year will be “Pedal to the Metal,” an eye-popping collection of antique child-powered vehicles.

One permanent display pays tribute to museum co-founder Barbara Marshall, whose eye and money put the institution on the map and on its current path.

As culture becomes a defining characteristic of Kansas City, the museum happily reintroduces itself as an ode to joy.