Saturday, June 15, 2013


On a recent visit to Kansas City, Missouri I spent five days taking photos of art tile and terra cotta installations, and Kansas City architecture in general. Probably the most iconic of the Kansas City structures for me was the Liberty Memorial (c. 1922-1926) designed by New York architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle (1867-1935). (My wife is writing a monograph about this architect, and this was the reason for our trip to Kansas City.)

(Color photos courtesy Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)
The Liberty Memorial (now combined with the National World War I Museum) is built on the crest of a hill overlooking downtown Kansas City. Just below the Liberty Memorial is Jarvis Hunt’s Union Station (1915). As passengers walked out the front entrance of Union Station, the first thing they’d see was the Liberty Memorial. “The station, still attached to an Amtrak depot, now houses the kid-friendly Science City, vintage rail cars, a planetarium, and live theater at City Stage.” (

Jarvis Hunt's Union Station. This building was "designed for trains to actually pass through it. Its innovative design consisted of six stories with separate levels for passengers, waiting rooms and baggage."  (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 45)

There are two shrouded sphinxes and two exhibition buildings on the main level, along with the Memorial Tower and its four sculpted guardians.

The interior of one of the buildings on the main concourse.

In downtown Kansas City there are a number of historic buildings. Below is the New York Life Insurance building, 20 West 9th Street. “The ten-story brick and brownstone tower, which was completed in 1890, is generally regarded as Kansas City's first skyscraper and was the first building in the city equipped with elevators. It was commissioned by the New York Life Insurance Company, which also used that design to build an identical building in Omaha at the same time. ...The building was designed in 1885 by Frederick Elmer Hill (1857–1929), of the New York City architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White. ...Built in Italianate Renaissance Revival style, the building has a brick and brownstone exterior and an H-shaped footprint with ten story wings flanking a twelve story tower. A monumental eagle tending eaglets in a nest is perched above the main entry. The work was sculpted by Louis St. Gaudens… . ...The New York Life Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, but was abandoned in 1988. In 1996, a $35 million restoration of the building added state-of-the-art energy, communications, and environmental features. In 2010, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph purchased the building for $11.7 million. It now houses the diocese's administrative offices (the chancery) and the local branch of Catholic Charities… .” (,_Missouri))

"Extravagant terra cotta ornament and brickwork flank the upper facade[,...and interior] features include outstanding tile work that was completed by Russian immigrants." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 17)

And, in the same area--The Library District, at 912 Baltimore Street, is the Union Carbide Building, designed in 1931 by William A. Bovard, and now repurposed as condos. “This historic Art Deco building at 9th and Baltimore, near the newly renovated Central Library, is listed in the National Register of Historical Places, and also was listed among 25 structures worth saving in the central business district by the KC Chapter of the AIA. The 11-story building’s first floor has been carefully restored at the entry where it had once been modernized. The juxtaposition of old and new is apparent from first glance in the lobby: Polished brass, terrazzo floors and painstakingly restored Egyptian-motif detailed ceilings coexist nicely with key-card controlled access glass security doors with minimalist polished nickel  handles.” ( building has been combined with the historic Larue Printing Building (built in 1910) next door at 908 Baltimore Avenue, which allowed for “three floors of office space and seven floors of residential condominium units… ." (Dan Nenonen, “Old and Improved”, Commercial Journal, Vol. 6, No. 5, Aug-Sept 2010, pp. 14-15)

Terra Cotta along the parapet of the Union Carbide Building. (Photo courtesy of Michael D Morse)

Also, there are art deco terra cotta panels between the second floor windows.

"The geometric foliate terra cotta panels that decorate the stepped cornice and first two stories express the Art Deco styling of this 11-story building." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 25)

(Photo courtesy of Michael D Morse)

A few blocks away is the restored Hotel President at 1329 Baltimore Avenue. “The hotel was completed in 1926. In 1928, it served as the headquarters for the 1928 Republican National Convention, which nominated Herbert Hoover for president. The hotel's Drum Room lounge attracted entertainers from across the country, including Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Marilyn Maye. The Hotel President was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.” ( The building architects were Shepard & Wiser.

”The President Hotel...typifies the qualities and associations present during the grand hotel era. The architecture of the building is replete with terra cotta and stone ornamentation, forming gables, colonettes, medallions, quatrefoils, string courses and friezes across the facade. The elaborate architectural embellishments testify to an opulent period in Kansas City's history. ...The facade derives its primary ornamentation from the use of terra cotta molding which enframes the window groupings on the 2nd and 3rd stories of the north, south, and west facades. The windows are further embellished by the use of decorative wrought iron railings and the spiral columnettes which flank them. The ground story is faced with a contrasting lighter colored stone on the north, south and west facades. A banded terra cotta frieze forms a string course above the 12th floor. Above this the pedimented windows are surmounted by an intermittent balustrade and quatrefoils. Terra cotta coping follows the line of the parapet wall.”  (“Downtown Hotels in Kansas City, Missouri”, National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, 1981;

And just across the street is the Kansas City Power and Light Building at 1330 Baltimore Avenue/106 S. 14th Street. “The building was designed by the Kansas City architecture firm of Hoit, Price and Barnes [in 1931]… .” ( principals of the firm were Henry F. Hoit (1873-1951), Edwin Price (1885-1957) and Alfred E. Barnes (1892-1960). The firm was noted for its Art Deco style. (,_Price_and_Barnes)

The building’s crown is a high central tower set on an octagonal base. Sculptured rays of sunlight symbolize electricity, and a pattern of lightning bolts occurs within each of the tower’s tall windows.” (David Gebhard, The National Trust Guide to Art Deco in America, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996, p. 138)
“The design of the Power and Light Building is a mix of Art Deco and Neo Gothic. Materials used include limestone, steel and concrete. The building also holds over 230,000 square feet of office space. It was originally planned as a twin to another building that would have been placed west of it. However, that plan didn't [ out], and the Power and Light Building now stands with almost it's entire western wall lacking windows. During the rise of suburbs and the decay of the inner-cities, this was one of the few buildings in Downtown Kansas City that didn't lose their primary tenants. This building reigned as Missouri's tallest habitable building for 45 years from 1931 to 1976… .” ( 

Art Deco motifs over the main entrance.

Another office building at 1103 Grand Boulevard, The Professional Building, also has an art deco terra cotta facade. “The Professional Building is significant for both architectural and historical reasons. First, as designed in 1929 by the prominent local architects Charles A. Smith and George A. Mclntyre, the Professional Building is one of Kansas City's earliest examples of Modernistic architecture. ...American architects, unlike the Europeans, placed less emphasis on stylistic consistency in their designs, exhibiting a greater concern for modernity and the ways in which it could be expressed through decoration. These new ideas alleviated the architect's burden of having to adapt past styles to modern requirements (when commissions permitted) and stimulated the growth of the modern movement in architecture. The Professional Building and those Modernistic structures that followed its lead in Kansas City during the 1930's, notably City Hall, the Jackson County Courthouse, Municipal Auditorium, the Kansas City Power and Light Building and the Bryant Building,are all fine representations of the new stylistic sentiment. Secondly, the historical importance of the Professional Building lies in its recognition as the first medical building designed exclusively for the use of doctors and dentists in Kansas City.” (Patricia Brown Glenn, Researcher, “Professional Building, 1101-1107 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri”, NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY - NOMINATION FORM, 1978;

“Charles A. Smith (1866-1948) is best known as the architect of many of the Kansas City public schools. He was associated with William F. Hackney from 1887 until Hackney's death in 1898. That year he replaced Hackney as architect for the school board. From 1910 to 1920 he was a member of the prominent Kansas City firm of Smith, Rea, and Lovitt. In addition to schools, Smith designed numerous residences, apartments, churches and commercial buildings in Kansas City. A 1913 graduate of the University of Illinois, George E. Mclntyre (1884-1965) was associated for a number of years with the Smith, Rea, and Lovitt firm, and later with Charles A. Smith, as an architectural engineer. In later years he opened his own architectural practice” (Patricia Brown Glenn, Researcher, “Professional Building, 1101-1107 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri”, NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY - NOMINATION FORM, 1978;

”The building is constructed primarily of reinforced concrete and steel. Red and buff colored brick and Bedford stone comprise exterior facing with buff colored glazed terracotta, painted wood and steel, marble and granite being used for decorative detailing. As an example of the Modernistic style, the Professional Building is characterized by an
emphatic verticality enhanced on the west and north faces by the uninterrupted treatment of the piers which give the building as a whole the appearance of having been hewn from a single tall block of material. ...The Modernistic decorative treatment of the west and north facades is evidenced in the combination of both rectilinear and curving geometric motifs carved in bas relief with a flat front plane. This type of ornament, arranged in horizontal bands flanking doors and windows, is coupled with square and oblong blocks of cut stone disposed symmetrical around the principal entrances and forms the crenelated parapet on top of the building. The piers are left unadorned with the exception of some decorative detailing near the top. The spandrels show one of two types of decoration: either a complimentary bas relief or bands of plain undulating cut stone.” (Patricia Brown Glenn, Researcher, “Professional Building, 1101-1107 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri”, NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY - NOMINATION FORM, 1978;

Fairbanks, Morse & Co.
"The flat flood plains at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers provided a promising site for the development of the manufacturing, cattle and trade industries in what came to be known as the West Bottoms." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 53)
In the West Bottoms many buildings have been repurposed and are now part of a growing arts and cultural area. The Fairbanks, Morse & Co. building, 1300 Liberty, was being rehabilitated when I visited. “Fairbanks Morse and Company was an American manufacturing company in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally a weighing scale manufacturer, it later diversified into pumps, engines, windmills, locomotives and industrial supplies until it was merged in 1958.” ( The local Fairbanks-Morse branch was founded in 1889.

1401 West 13th Street

Built in 1902, this terra-cotta and brick building near Liberty Avenue and West 13th Street is now the home of the largest haunted house in the country. This building was once owned, and built by John Deere & Company.

“[John Deere & Co.] was originally established by John Deere at Grand Detour, IL., in 1837, and ten years later was taken over by a co-partnership known as Deere, Tate & Gould, and removed to its present location at Moline, IL. The name of this co-partnership was subsequently changed to John Deere & Co.” ( John Deere’s son, Charles, managed the business in the later 1800s. “[...Charles’] method of branch organization was a partnership… . The first of these organizations was made up of executives of John Deere, Inc. acting in a partnership...with Alvah Mansur in Kansas City in 1869.” (John S. Wagle, “CHARLES DEERE CULTIVATES A MARKETING REVOLUTION”; Thus, the “1837” and “1902” on the sides of the entrance.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum

Kansas City is also the home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum, both of which are housed in the same building at 1616 East 18th Street in the 18th and Vine Historic District. "The complex[, designed by Gould Evans Goodman Associates in 1997,] incorporates two existing buildings with new construction. An arched entry forms a gateway into the transparent glass cube lobby." (American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City, 2000, p. 76)

“The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990 by a group of former Negro Leagues baseball players, including Kansas City Monarchs outfielder, Alfred Surratt, Buck O'Neil, and Horace Peterson. The museum resides in...the hub of African-American cultural activity in Kansas City during the first half of the 20th century.” (

The Gem Theater

Across the street from the Museum is the Gem Theater, 1615 West 18th Street, a restored jazz and cultural venue. “Constructed in 1912 using Baroque-style architecture, this local landmark in the historic 18th & Vine District was once a movie house. In lieu of recent renovations, it is now a live jazz, dance and theater performance space open for private booking with a 500 person capacity. Most notably, it is home to the "Jammin' at the Gem" series organized by the American Jazz Museum.” ( “Opened in 1912 as the Star Theatre, it was renamed Gem Theatre in 1913. It got a facade facelift in 1923. The Gem Theatre was built for use by African-American audiences and had a seating capacity for 1,414. Movies continued until the mid-1970’s and then went to live performances. Since 1997, after a detailed renovation to create a 500-seat performance space which removed most of the original interior, it has been a venue for the American Jazz Museum located across the street. [...One comment about the restoration states:] 'This theatre has a Vitrolite tile exterior. The work was done by Tim Dunn, Vitrolite specialist located in St. Louis MO.'” ( “[Tim Dunn] commuted regularly from St. Louis to replace the dust rose Vitrolite pigmented plate glass [on the Gem’s facade] that is no longer produced.” (Laura R. Hockaday, “Gala at Gem Theatre marks district's cultural renaissance”, The Kansas City Star, August 31, 1997;

“Dunn's business occupies a specialized niche. He buys, sells and restores pigmented structural glass. Most people know this material, if they know it at all, by the trade names under which it was sold, which include Vitrolite, Carrera Glass, and Sani Onyx.
This colored opaque glass was popular on the exteriors (and, less so, in the interiors) of many early-20th-century buildings, especially those in art deco, streamline. and moderne styles. A sort of blemish-free everyman's marble, it was in particular vogue as a facing on the storefronts of bakeries, drugstores, and jewelry shops. Fearful of being left behind, Main Street businesses would often slap up a veneer of Vitrolite to hide their 19th-century masonry dowdiness. In a few instances, new movie palaces went big into Vitrolite and covered their entire facades with the material. ...His first big project was the restoration of the Gem Theater in Kansas City, Mo., and soon after he undertook the restoration of the Ritz Theater in Talladega, Ala., a three-story Vitrolite fantasy sliced with bands of neon. ...Part of Dunn's job is ensuring a ready supply of Vitrolite for his restoration work, which presents some logistical considerations, since the material hasn't been manufactured since 1947. You can still import new colored glass from the Czech Republic, but it's thinner, the hues don't match up with its historical counterparts (the new black is really a deep purple) and it is available in only six colors. At its peak, Vitrolite was available in 40.” (

Mainstreet Theater

“The Mainstreet Theater, also commonly referred to as The Empire Theater, is a historic theater located at 1400 Main Street in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The theater was landmarked and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 2007. Designed by Rapp & Rapp, the 90, opened on October 30, 1921 as the Mainstreet Missouri. The 3,200 seat theater was a popular vaudeville and movie house, and the only theater in Kansas City designed by Chicago firm Rapp and Rapp. The interior of the theater was designed in French Baroque style, and the exterior is a blend of neoclassical and French Second Empire. The lobby is topped by a dome encircled by circular windows. ...The Mainstreet was the first theater in Kansas City to have a nursery for children whose parents were attending a show. ...A tunnel connected the lower level of the theater to the nearby President Hotel at 14th and Baltimore. The tunnel was initially created as a means for actors to enter the theater from dressing rooms, but the tunnel also became infamous as a passage for bootleggers to escape police during Prohibition. ...The theater also had space in the basement and sub-basement where animals were kept for vaudeville shows.” (

1720 Wyandotte Street

In the 1930s the one-story building at 1720 Wyandotte Street was known as the 20th Century Fox Building, and was part of Kansas City’s “Film Row”. “In the Film Row neighborhood where the Vitagraph building is located [at 1703 Wyandotte Street, Vitagraph] stands as the most elaborate example of [the Art Deco] architectural idiom, albeit at the cusp of the trend toward the International Style. Among the other Art Deco inspired buildings in Film Row[,…] including Orion Pictures (120 W. 17"' Street), 20"' Century Fox (1720 Wyandotte Street), Commonwealth Theatres (215 W. 18"' Street), Vitagraph is most expressive of the principles of the Art Deco; the later named buildings, with their all but rejection of decor, use of glass block and curved facades, lean toward the sleekness of the Art Moderne/streamline style of architecture.” (“Vitagraph Film Exchange Building”, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Section 8, Page 19;

1819-21 Wyandotte Street

1819-21 Wyandotte Street, is ornamented with polychrome terra cotta and faience. This building is also located in Kansas City’s old “Film Row” district, now the Crossroads Art District.

Webster School, 1644 Wyandotte Street

Webster School “is constructed of pressed brick laid in common bond throughout most of the structure and patterned brick in some areas. ...The building consists of two rectangular pavilions connected by a narrow passageway… . ...Rooms in both pavilions are arranged symmetrically about a longitudinal axis a characteristic often found in Richardsonian Romanesque buildings. Also characteristic are the bulky massing and roofline broken by gabled wall dormers on the east and west and by conical roofs of flanking stair towers on the north and south. ...The Webster School is significant because of its architectural style. it is one of a few surviving of the many that were built in the 1880s in Kansas City that were executed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. It is also significant as one of the oldest school buildings in Kansas City. ...The building was designed by Manuel A. Diaz, the school board architect. Diaz (who listed himself as a civil engineer in the City Directory) was the first person to hold that position. ...Webster School was a part of the Kansas City school system for 45 years, serving a neighborhood characterized by workingmen's houses, small apartments and commercial buildings.” (Joan L. Michalak, “Webster School, 1644 Wyandotte, Kansas City, Missouri”, National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form, 1981) The Webster School is now known as Webster House and is an upscale restaurant in the Crossroads Art District.

Kansas City is famous for its barbeque restaurants. One of the most popular is Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue at 1727 Brooklyn Avenue.

Although it looks deserted, it was jumping inside.

Part-II will conclude my architectural visit to Kansas City.


  1. Excellent post, thank you very much for showing the beautiful architecture of Kansas City. I work downtown in the Boley Building (Louis Curtiss - 1909) and have been taking photos and researching the history of Kansas City's architecture for the last year.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Doug. Are you planning to publish your research/photos? Part 2 of KC Architecture will be posted on July 1.

  2. Lovely to see another person appreciating the beautiful architecture around KC! There is so much to look at and you've done well capturing what you have!