The Mercedes of Meeting Venues: Kemp Auto Museum
By Stephen Lindsley
There is an inside joke among those who work at the Kemp Auto Museum in St. Louis’ Chesterfield Valley. As a new group arrives and begins to filter into the large room that houses the bulk of the classic car collection, the employees keep track of how many times the word “Wow!” is uttered. Sometimes they lose count, because “Wow!” is definitely the most common reaction to the room and its glittering collection, says meeting and events director Allison Hershberger, CMP.
It is easy to see why. The 23,000-square-foot space is essentially a black box with high ceilings and a very shiny black floor. Arrayed along the walls of the room are dozens of meticulously maintained – and in many cases, restored – automobiles. Mercedes-Benz vehicles comprise the bulk of the collection, though there is a Karmann Ghia here, a Porsche there, and a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow sedan thrown in for good measure.
One Man’s Mission
The collection was the pride and joy of Fred M. Kemp, an architect and the founder and president of Kemp Homes, whose love of architecture extended to automobile design and especially the sleek and innovative lines of Mercedes-Benz cars. The collection spans and illustrates automotive history, from a 2004 Mercedes SL55 AMG all the way back to a replica of an 1886 3-wheeled Mercedes Patent Wagen, which many consider to be the first true automobile.
Though the museum was Kemp’s brainchild, he would unfortunately not live to see it completed. Kemp died at age 78 on July 1, 2004. It would be his son, Fred Kemp III, who would steward the project to completion, opening in April, 2005. According to Hershberger the black floor – which is buffed to such a shine that it clearly reflects the cars that rest upon it – was a big part of the elder Kemp’s vision. He had seen a tiled version of the floor in a California auto museum, and desired to improve upon it by making his floor an unbroken, continuous plane. The custom floor was installed, painted, coated with polyurethane, and is regularly waxed and buffed in order to burnish it to perfection. Apart from the cars themselves it is this floor more than anything else that contributes to the “Wow!” factor.
The Mercedes of Meeting Venues
The Kemp Auto Museum facility is uniquely suited for a wide range of meetings and events. The large main space can accommodate up to 800 guests seated for dinner. And, as Hershberger points out, “My art is all on wheels,” which means that the cars can be arranged in different ways depending on the needs of the event. Pipe and drape partitions are available for groups of fewer than 100 that still want to utilize the showroom, and some cars may be moved closer to the more intimate space to complete the setting. This is anything but your basic hotel ballroom venue. Hershberger sums it up well: “It’s definitely not just four walls and a chandelier.”
In just a little more than a year the museum has already played host to more than 120 events. Hershberger estimates that 40 to 50 percent of the events held at the museum are charity oriented, with corporate events, weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs rounding out the mix. Some highlights have included a “Waiters Gone Wild” charity dinner for a local Court-Appointed Special Advocates group in which local celebrities served as waiters trying to earn as many “tips” as possible for the cause, and another for a Support Dogs group that was a “Tacky Ball” and silent auction – the tackier the dinner attire, the better. To date, the largest group in the main hall comprised some 650 guests. The preferred caterers are Russo’s Gourmet, Wolfgang Puck and Steven Becker Fine Dining.
Apart from the main area there are several smaller spaces that are flexible enough to serve many different purposes. The Adenaur Room accommodates 100 guests seated theater-style, or 60 for a sit-down meal. It features a 120-inch retractable screen with a ceiling-mounted LCD projector and surround-sound speakers. The Mannheim room, just off the main hall, is used for more intimate gatherings. Most frequently the room is offered for newlyweds to have a chance for a private meal before they meet and greet their guests at the reception. Many newlyweds have expressed their delight in having a chance for a little downtime with their new spouse after the stress of the ceremony and before the cacophony of the reception.
The reception area of the museum is another possible meeting space that can seat 40 to 50 guests, with the reception desk occasionally doubling as a bar. Just outside the entrance is a large tree-lined courtyard that leads to the museum’s restoration facility just to the west. This outdoor plaza – named Sachs Platz after a generous local donor – can accommodate as many as 1,800 guests. Tents can be set up here to afford some protection from the elements, and a summer concert series is held in the courtyard from June to September on the first Thursday of each month from 5:30 to 9 p.m. The Sachs courtyard also plays host to Taste of Chesterfield festivals held periodically throughout the year, featuring food samples from local restaurants, live entertainment, arts and crafts and more.
The Kemp Auto Museum is located at 16955 Chesterfield Airport Road in the rapidly growing Chesterfield Valley area on the western edge of St. Louis County. It is a short drive from many popular hotels, restaurants and other attractions. For more information about holding an event at the museum contact Allison Hershberger at 636-537-1718 or toll free at 877-216-6686. For more details about the facility visit the Web site at www.kempautomuseum.org.
(Stephen Lindsley is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)