A perfect balance of business and pleasure give Andrews McMeel Publishing distinction in a crowded category.
Story by Kathryn Jones | Photos by Michael Robinson
Want to know why we chose Andrews McMeel Universal for our inaugural “Coolest Office” feature? Just look at the pictures. Seriously. There’s no denying this office is good-looking. And it doesn’t hurt that it has its own coffee bar and barista, state-of-the-art fitness center and killer window treatments featuring mosaics of everyone’s favorite comic book characters. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as to why we think Andrews McMeel is cool.
When it bought and renovated the old Boley building at 1130 Walnut Street back in 2007, the publisher not only preserved a piece of KC’s legacy, it breathed new life into the historic building and helped revitalize our urban core. “A dynamic downtown is essential to any city, and we wanted to be at the forefront of the revitalization,” says Chairman and co-founder John McMeel.
“Under the leadership of Mayor [Kay] Barnes and with great new initiatives with Sprint Center and H&R Block, we knew Kansas City was headed in that direction,” says President and CEO Hugh Andrews. “When we decided to buy the building, none of that was in place yet, but it was coming out of the ground.”
A lot of TLC went into the restoration of the century-old landmark. Helix Architecture + Design Inc. and McCownGordon Construction had their work cut out for them. Entire sections of the six-story building were in utter disrepair. It took almost a year (and a hefty investment) to bring the Boley back to its original luster, but it was worth it. “We knew it was a really special building, and it turned out to be a spectacular place for us to work,” Andrews says.
“We are a media company that has pioneered products and services,” McMeel adds. “We take pride in being ahead of the curve in this industry, a trendsetter, and we wanted our new office to reflect that philosophy. We restored this 104-year-old building into a vibrant space filled with creative energy and vitality, which I think lends itself to a very collaborative work environment.”
“Welcome! … and … Hello!”
Prior to acquiring the Boley building, Andrews McMeel had operated out of Tower Two of the American Century Towers complex at 45th and Main since 1996. “It was a great space,” Andrews says. “We had three floors with beautiful views of the Plaza, but we had 97 private offices. For a creative company, that’s not always the best thing. It’s not what people look for in a creative space anymore.”
Still, employees were a little rattled at the idea of moving to a giant, loft-like space downtown. “There’s always apprehension when you talk about moving, especially when you move from a lot of offices to an open space, but that went away pretty quickly,” says Andrews. “Overall, the response we’re getting from people is that they’re very pleased with the building. It’s been warmly embraced.”
Since it’s included in the National Register of Historic Places, Andrews McMeel could not change the outside of the Boley building, and frankly, it didn’t want to. To passersby, it appears exactly as it’s intended: “a beautiful old building,” Andrews describes. But once you walk through those doors, you’re transported into a modern-age palace of creativity equipped with cutting-edge technology and an ultra-sophisticated design. “The first floor is really our living room for the company,” he says. “It’s a comfortable place for people to gather and brainstorm.”
McMeel is rather fond of those mosaic window treatments on the first floor featuring some of the company’s most iconic comic strip characters, including the ever-precocious Calvin and Hobbes. “We get compliments on them all the time,” he says. “Our creators are very important to us and are known for their work across the world. We found a proper way to display that. Having those works of art on our windows is our way of saying, ‘Welcome!’ … and … ‘Hello!’”
There’s No Place Like Home
The original headquarters of Andrews McMeel was a rented house in the Kansas suburbs. McMeel and fellow Notre Dame graduate Jim Andrews founded the company in 1970 as Universal Press Syndicate. Andrews and his wife, Kathleen, ran the editorial department out of their Leawood home, while McMeel and his wife, Susan, operated the sales and marketing division out of a one-room office in NYC. Five years later, the McMeels relocated to Kansas City.
The company was growing by leaps and bounds when Andrews passed away suddenly in 1980 at the age of 44. It was Andrews who had discovered Garry Trudeau’s comic strip “Bull Tales” in the Yale student newspaper years before and signed him on as one of the company’s first talents. During their first year in business, Andrews and McMeel launched Trudeau’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip Doonesbury, and the rest, they say, is history.
Today, Andrews McMeel is the umbrella company for three highly successful divisions. Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC is the industry leader in calendars, cookbooks, humor books, gift books, and of course, comic strip reprints. Universal Uclick is the world’s largest independently owned newspaper syndicate, distributing content to print, online and mobile platforms. AMUSE is the film and television division of Universal Uclick.
AMUSE’s film “Small Apartments” starring Billy Crystal and James Caan had its KC debut at the Alamo Drafthouse in February 2013. The movie is based on the novel written by Chris Millis, the assistant to syndicated cartoonist John McPherson who created the offbeat “Close to Home” comic strip, which is distributed by Universal Uclick to more than 400 newspapers globally.
“You never know when the next big idea is going to be found by someone in this building,” McMeel says. “That’s how it’s happened over these last 44 years. Every day brings a new opportunity. We are a media entertainment business, and what could be cooler than that? It’s been a good trip, and it’s wonderful to be here in Kansas City.”
A KC Artifact
The Boley building belonged to Charles N. Boley, owner of the Boley Clothing Company, who had it built in 1908. As the first curtainwall building erected west of the Mississippi, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Boley hired prominent KC architect Louis S. Curtiss to design the massive store, which once bore the word “BOLEY’S” on top of its roof in lettering similar to the original Hollywoodland sign, though it should be noted the famous LA landmark wasn’t for another 15 years.
Although Curtiss had an impressive portfolio of KC landmarks (like the Willis Wood Theater, Hotel Baltimore and the residence of William Rockhill Nelson), the Boley building’s clean, minimalist look was a stark contrast to the highly ornamented buildings of the Victorian Era and not well received. Some people called it downright “ugly.” As it turns out, Curtiss was just 40 years ahead of his time. Buildings like Boley that feature glass windows as their primary exterior facade became a mid-century architectural staple and are revered to this day.