By Stephen Lindsley
Residents of Kansas City’s Northland have long been intrigued by the imposing brick structure that overlooks Highway 291 in Liberty, Mo. For decades the massive Odd Fellows Home has been a local landmark, though it was long ago abandoned, slowly succumbing to the effects of time and the elements. Now, through the vision of a local doctor and his wife, the property has been transformed into a winery and meeting center, and word is getting out that this venerable piece of local history is once again open for visitors. The grand opening of Belvoir Winery in January 2011 added a new chapter to the fascinating tale of the building and grounds.
A STORIED PAST
In the late 1800s, a real estate boom sprang up in Liberty. A hotel was built to take advantage of the healing mineral springs in the area. When the hotel closed in a subsequent economic down-turn, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a benevolent fraternal organization, purchased it to use as a home for its members. When that building burned to the ground in 1900, the Odd Fellows chose architect William B. Ittner to design a modern replacement. As Commissioner of School Buildings for the St. Louis Board of Education, Ittner designed and built dozens of noted public schools in St. Louis, as well as the Missouri Athletic Club building, the Scottish Rite Cathedral and the Continental Building in Grand Center. The Odd Fellows Administration building in Liberty was designed in Ittner’s signature Jacobethan Revival style. It now houses the winery’s main production facility, tasting room and event spaces.
A BRIGHT NEW FUTURE
Nestled on a tree-lined hill, Belvoir (French for “beautiful view”) is a suitable name for the winery. The main building commands an imposing view of the well ordered vineyards that surround it. Converting the Odd Fellows Home into a winery was the brainchild of Liberty resident Dr. John L. Bean and his wife Marsha. The Beans purchased the property in 1992 and began planting vines, but Marsha’s ill health and subsequent death delayed the building’s renovation. Work resumed in 2009, and with the first-floor renovation completed, the facility opened early in 2011. Future plans include a larger second-floor ballroom and eventually rooms for a bed and breakfast on the third floor. Each floor comprises an ample 10,000 feet of space. Two other historic buildings on the property are also slated for renovation.
A SPOT FOR EVERY KIND OF GROUP
The main building is shaped like the letter “H,” with a different meeting space in each corner. The Crystal Ballroom is the largest event space. It can seat 112 at round tables, or 175 theater-style. A Saturday wedding package, offered at $4,000, includes many items a bride-to-be might otherwise have to arrange separately, including white linen tablecloths, bartenders, setup and takedown, and A/V equipment if required. A bridal salon is also provided, with a sitting room and private bathroom with vanity.
The white marble gazebo in front of the administration building is dedicated to Marsha’s memory. Nearby stands an ornate fountain that was designed by Mrs. Bean herself. Outdoor weddings are often performed in the gazebo, with the soothing sounds of the fountain as a backdrop.
Facing the gazebo and fountain is a large front patio, which can seat up to 64 guests. Three smaller indoor spaces are also available. The Back Dining Room accommodates 32 guests at round tables, or 50 theater-style. The intimate Memorial Room seats up to 20. An ice cream shop and deli, set in nostalgic décor with Tiffany lamp shades, offer sandwiches and three flavors of ice cream. The space can seat up to 64, or 50 theater-style. The wine tasting area includes a full bar, open seven days a week.
FLEXIBILITY IS THE KEY
The winery is attracting a wide range of groups, many of whom are curious about what has been done with the property. “Part of the appeal is the history, especially in Liberty,” said Roxy Coursey, a Mary Kay Cosmetics senior sales director. “They have really done a good job of converting the place without destroying the history. The meeting rooms are comfortable and well lit, there’s great parking, great visibility, and they are very flexible and open to new ideas. There are so many possibilities there.” Coursey has both organized and attended networking sessions for small business owners at the winery, and has several different ideas for future events. She also notes that free wine tastings are offered to meeting groups, which is an added benefit.
Event coordinator Rachel Crenshaw notes that as a way of introducing the facility to the community, the smaller spaces have occasionally been offered free of charge to small groups looking for meeting space. There is no in-house caterer, so planners are free to work with whomever they choose. Crenshaw has even been known to help brides-to-be and others organize catering services at no additional charge. This kind of flexibility makes planning an event that much easier. “We have already hosted 42 weddings this year,” said Crenshaw. “People are really beginning to discover the possibilities here.”
PRESERVING SPECIAL MEMORIES
Belvoir has teamed up with CiiMemories to offer a unique service for wedding parties. An account is set up in advance, allowing guests to send texts and photos from their phones. The images that are displayed during the event on television monitors located throughout the facility. Guests can send and see well wishes and congratulations as they happen, and those who cannot attend can also participate, which is especially useful for military family members stationed overseas, or those not able to travel to the event. The entire show can be archived on DVD for a special digital keepsake that lasts a lifetime.
Belvoir also offers to print custom labels on mini wine bottles to commemorate special events such as weddings. This makes a unique keepsake for the wedding party and the families of the bride and groom. Of course, the service is not limited to weddings – any special event can be immortalized in this way – and if the winery happens to be having a vintage year, it only makes the bottle more collectible.
LINKING THE PAST TO THE FUTURE
The addition of a unique meeting and event facility of such size and adaptability is an important one for the North Kansas City area. Less than a 30-minute drive from downtown, the winery’s pastoral setting is a breath of fresh air, and a welcome change from a stuffy, windowless boardroom. What was once an abandoned, forbidding mystery is now a lively and rejuvenated facility and a valued member of the local community. The possibilities for meeting and event planners are already numerous, and the future at Belvoir Winery looks bright indeed. MM&E
(Stephen Lindsley is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)