Just one year after it opened to the public, the Owens-Rogers Museum in northern Independence is closing.
Marge and Gene Padgitt opened the museum last August at 100 W. Moore St., in the early 20th-century home of writer Lela Owens-Rogers and her famous dancer/actor daughter, Ginger Rogers. They spent more than two years fixing up the house before that but have lacked for visitors and now have too little space for donated items.
The museum will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays through September, and after that, Marge Padgitt said, she could open the 1906 Bungalow structure a few times a year for special events.
Rogers was born in Independence in 1911. She gained fame largely for the 10 dance movies she made with Fred Astaire in the 1930s and ’40s, and she won an Oscar – Best Actress – for the 1940 movie “Kitty Foyle.”
The Padgitts will retain ownership through their Three Trails Cottages, LLC and change the building's name to Owens-Rogers House.
“There's so many factors in the decision,” Padgitt said. “We've got too many things that can't fit in that space.”
Displays include memorabilia, posters, dolls, signed items and gowns and other times that Ginger Rogers owned and wore – more than 260 items in all. But Padgitt said she's received far more donated items than she ever anticipated.
“Oh yes,” she said. “We've got a lot coming from California and the Oregon area where Ginger Rogers had her ranch. One guy is sending a piano that she used in one movie, and obviously we don't have room for that.”
Also, the museum hasn't welcomed nearly as many visitors and hasn't received as much outside advertising as Padgitt hoped.
“We're just not getting the traffic we wanted,” she said. “If interest isn't there … we gave it a shot for a year, and it's just not working out.”
All donations went through the non-profit Local History Preservation Society, which Padgitt also helped form before the museum opened. All along, they had also hoped to acquire a larger building to make a different museum dedicated to the history of the Jackson County area and celebrities who lived in it such as Lela and Ginger Rogers, Walt Disney, actor Jean Harlow, actor William Powell, Jesse and Frank James and others.
That plan still exists, Padgitt said, and the group continues to look for a new building in the area. Items currently on display at the Owens-Rogers Museum will be put into storage until that facility opens. The group also wants to help people preserve historic structures, buildings and homes.
“It has to be in the right location; it has to be in a spot where tourists would frequent,” Padgitt said of a possible new museum. “I ideally someone would donate, even if it's run down. We have the means and talent to fix something up.”
Padgitt acknowledged that even with excess donations, she couldn't reach a point of turning things away.
“No, I don't (want to refuse donated items),” she said. “I think it's important to preserve history.”
While the museum is open, free tours are available for dance and theater children and teen groups on Saturdays.
“I think it's important for young people to know about Ginger Rogers,” Padgitt said. “She was a great dancer but also a talented actress.”
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