The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, which has made west St. Louis County its home for nearly 30 years, is not staying.
It will pack up its dog statues, dog paintings and dog library for a move to its original digs in New York City, officials announced Friday. No timeline has been set, but Stephen George, the museum’s executive director, guessed that the move would happen in mid- to late 2018.
The museum, one of the area’s more well-known obscure attractions, was ridiculed by some in its early years here after the county spent tourism money on it. But its collection of about 4,000 works of art showcasing man’s best friend throughout history have been fetching to loyal fans.
And yes, dogs can sniff out the artwork; they are allowed inside.
The decision to move was a “mutual agreement between both boards to expand and enhance the future of the museum,” the AKC said in a statement. It will move back to the city headquarters for the American Kennel Club, where the museum first opened in 1982. The AKC is still looking for a museum location there.
George said the decision was made by the museum board and AKC management in order to increase the number of people who see the artwork. George said attendance and programming has increased in recent years, with about 6,000 paying visitors last year and many more who came for special events.
According to a 2014 tax filing, the latest available, the museum reported revenue of $397,268, down from $1.1 million the year before. Expenses totaled $422,766, down from $429,918. Entry fees are $1 to $6.
In addition to George, a curator, an event coordinator and five part-time staffers will lose their jobs.
George said he’s heard mixed reactions to news of the move.
“A lot of it has been, ‘This is great for the museum, it’s great for the artwork itself.’ It’s not good for St. Louis. People are going to miss it,” he said.
“We’re dog-friendly. We have people who are members who are just here regularly, they’re out there in Queeny Park, and they pop in, and they look at something new, and their dog gets a dog biscuit and fresh water and they’re on their way.”
Gary Bess, the county’s parks director, said the Museum of the Dog has been a good tenant. The county hopes to keep the venue as a museum and rent out its event space.
The museum first opened in the AKC offices in the New York Life building at 51 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. There, after receiving several donations, including the art collection of the Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge estate, it unveiled an exhibition of dog art.
The collection grew and, after a yearlong nationwide search for a new home, opened in 1987 as the Dog Museum of America at the Jarville House in Queeny Park. Its address is 1721 South Mason Road.
County officials had meant for the Jarville House, a Greek Revival-style mansion built in 1853, to be a temporary home. There were plans to build the dog museum as part of a horse park and condominium complex in Eureka with $2 million in private funds.
Grand-opening festivities included a ribbon of dog bones at the Jarville House front door. There were several dog guests, including Kate, pet Rottweiler of then-County Executive Gene McNary, who had considered the museum his pet project and was instrumental in its move here. He also had an eye on moving the AKC to the area.
“Dog owners and lovers here will be ecstatic,” McNary told the Post-Dispatch at the time. “The dog museum will serve millions of people throughout the Midwest who would never get to New York.”
But the Eureka land arrangement fell through, and the museum’s board decided to keep it at the Jarville House. McNary and the County Council approved spending $1.2 million from a county tourism fund to renovate the mansion.
The county executive who followed McNary, H.C. Milford, reluctantly asked the County Council for $150,000 to finish renovations and install a sprinkler system. The expense was approved. One councilman who cast a dissenting vote chipped in a $5 bill — $1 each from the four members of his family and $1 from his dog.
Then-county Prosecutor George R. “Buzz” Westfall, in his 1990 campaign for county executive, unleashed an ad ridiculing Milford and the county’s spending on the project. The ad featured poodles with ribbons dancing in a conga line and dogs water skiing and skipping rope.
Said a Westfall spokesman at the time: “It makes the Bowling Hall of Fame look like the Eiffel Tower.” (The International Bowling Hall of Fame left St. Louis for Arlington, Texas, in 2008.)
Westfall, a Democrat, won the campaign, ending the Republican Party’s 28-year grip on the office.
The museum has operated on its own since coming to St. Louis County. In 1995, amid rumors that it was closing due to financial issues, the dog museum was reaffiliated with the American Kennel Club and renamed the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog.
Even after the AKC took over, it planned to move the museum to another location, saying in 1996 that a move to North Carolina was a “done deal” that would happen within five years. But the AKC decided to keep it here, and the museum planned more programs and $150,000 in renovations.
Through the years, the AKC has donated more than $4.5 million to keep the museum open.
The museum had a 99-year, $1-per-year lease agreement with St. Louis County. The grounds are maintained by the county with the museum run as a nonprofit with a board of directors.
It also houses more than 3,000 books and other publications in a library and maintains a registry of more than 250 artists who are available by commission to paint dog portraits.
In recent years, the museum hosted events such as club meetings for specific dog breeds, signings for dog-related books and “Fitness with Fido” workout classes.
McNary, the former county executive, said Friday that he will be sorry to see the museum go.
“We originally brought them here thinking we could get the American Kennel Club, but it didn’t work out,” he said. “Any time you lose one of your cultural assets, it’s sad. They were a good attraction for many years. I want to thank everyone who supported it here and for the corporate support. I wish them well.”