Kansas City downtown walk connects the past to the present

Kansas City
Mark Twain takes a look at Kansas City’s history. We took a trip through history through the city’s architecture.

Kansas City’s downtown is full of history. It’s told through buildings that rise high from the streets. The steel and brick date back to the 19th century. The city continues to change, with buildings joining the skyline within the last decade.

Downtown is divided into districts – Library, Civic Center, etc. You can spend hours walking around taking in the views. There are self-guided tours people can download from the internet. I believe someone could write a blog about the area’s historic buildings and not run out of material anytime soon.

We decided to take the self-guided Library District walk. We started out with good intentions. However, as we usually do, Lisa and I veered from the guide and started our own version of a downtown architecture tour.

Since it was called the Library District tour, let’s start there. Kansas City’s main library is located inside an old bank. The central library has been located throughout the area, before settling into its current location in 2004. The building was once a bank. A vault with movie themes highlights the basement.

Kansas City
Kansas City’s central library.

“The Community Bookshelf” highlights the library’s parking garage. The 22 titles represented on the book spines are about 25 feet tall. The titles range from “Truman” by David McCullough to “O Pioneers!” by Nebraska’s Willa Cather.

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We have loved this view of the library’s parking garage for several years. The idea of using book titles as a garage cover is brilliant!

The parking garage has additional art, including a couple of murals above the entrance.

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Art on the parking garage adds to the area’s attractions.

As we were admiring the building, a man walked up and told us about a couple of interesting looking doorways. We looked and agreed. Across the street from the library, we saw an older doorway with some beautiful design. It’s cool that the building’s owners kept that history of the building.

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This door was interesting.

The Dwight Building was built in the 1920s. It’s considered the first all-steel building constructed downtown. The building was renovated in 2002.

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The Dwight Building.

The Kansas City School of Law building on Baltimore – built in 1926 – may belong to the library system now, but at one time future barristers studied there. Kansas City University merged with the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the late 1930s.

Kansas City
The Kansas City School of Law building is now part of the library.

The New York Life Building has seen several incarnations during its 126 years. The first Kansas City high rise with elevators, it was one of a handful of buildings built by New York Life Insurance. The building, constructed in 1890, has been home to the Catholic Center (archdiocese) for a couple of decades. The building’s design is Italianate Renaissance Revival. The building is known for the eagle perched above the street.

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Home of the Catholic archdiocese.

Downtown Kansas City is home to the official start of the Future Farmers of America. The location near the Kansas City Club – the old Hotel Baltimore – is recognized with a marker.

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The Future Farmers of America was founded in Kansas City.

The original fire downtown fire department is now home to the Folly Theater’s ticket office and the Central Exchange. The building is of the Beaux Arts Classicism, which was popular 1895-1915.

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The old Kansas City fire department building is now home to a theater’s business office.

Across the street, the Crossroads Academy was once an animation studio. Its most noted employee likely turned out to be a guy who once called small town Marceline, Missouri, home. Walt Disney landed his first animation job at the building in the 1920s. The rest, as they say, is history.

Staying in the area, the old Lyric Theatre building is no longer used by the opera company. The troupe moved its performances to the modern Kauffman Performing Arts Center. The YMCA is supposedly going to take over the building.

Kansas City
The YMCA plans to take over the former Lyric Theatre building.

Checking out Quality Hill District took us to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. The foundation for the cathedral was laid with the first cornerstone in 1882. The 23-karat gold leaf dome replaced a deteriorating copper cover in the early 1960s. The cathedral is home to a carillon of 11 bells in the tower, each named for saints.

Kansas City
Cathedral of Immaculate Conception.

Walking back toward the Power and Light District, where we planned to start our tour, we stopped by the President Hotel. We stayed there a few years ago. The hotel has so much history since opening its doors in 1926. A Republican national convention was held there. Frank Sinatra performed in the Drum Room. The building was closed in 1980 and reopened in 2005 as a hotel in the Hilton chain.

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We enjoyed a previous stay at the President Hotel.

The famed Power and Light Building is located across the street from the hotel. Built in 1931 as an attraction to draw jobs to Kansas City, the P&L building has been home to several companies. It was designed in the art deco mode.

Kansas City
The Power and Light Building across from the President Hotel.

A short walk away, you can catch a movie at the Alamo Mainstreet Theater. We saw a movie there and fell in love with the Alamo chain. The building was opened in 1921 and hosted vaudeville shows, as well as movies.

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The Alamo Mainstreet.

The Midland Theatre is home to concerts and special events. It was built in 1927.

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The Midland. The wire in front is for the soon-to-be operational street car.

The Muehlebach Hotel was built in 1915. The original 12-story building hosted American presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. It’s now part of the Marriott family.

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The Muehlebach Hotel.

A contemporary building is a few steps away. One Kansas City Place was constructed in 1988. One of the tallest buildings in Missouri, its known for illuminating colors at night, including red and yellow lights to support the Kansas City Chiefs.

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One Kansas City Place.

The H&R Block building opened in 2006 and stands about 18 floors high. We can remember watching the building being constructed.

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H&R Block Building ties the area’s history to today with its exterior reflections.

As a reflections fan, I believe the building ties downtown’s history to present day with the images of older buildings in its glass.

For more information on self-guided area tours, please check out http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/kansas-city-history-tour-4093.html.

For tours sponsored by organizations, please visit www.historickansascity.org or www.visitkc.com.