Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Buildings & Organizations

Author: 
Donna Francis

Architect Henry Van Brunt once called the Baltimore Hotel "the grand hotel for three decades at the heart of the city, both physically and sentimentally". Located on Baltimore between l1th and 12th Streets, the Baltimore was the hotel of choice for the local elite and for visiting dignitaries, including several United States presidents.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On September 23, 1923, the Bennie Moten Orchestra made its first recording consisting of eight songs. By strict musical standards, the songs themselves were unrefined and not much removed from existing blues music. But the Bennie Moten Orchestra would soon build upon its earliest recordings to develop a distinct Kansas City style of jazz that later dominated the jazz scene in the late 1930s and 1940s.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

The twin terra cotta towers of the former Beth Shalom synagogue serve as a distinctive landmark for the neighborhood at 3400 the Paseo. The striking building is the only example of Byzantine architecture in Kansas City, a style that was popular for Jewish houses of worship in the 1920s. Completed in 1927, the building has won accolades from the architectural community and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

The first edition of the Kansas City "The Call," or The Call, was published on May 6, 1919. It was one of 22 newspapers published by Kansas City’s African American community near the beginning of the 20th century, but the only one that survived past 1943. Starting as an inauspicious four-page paper, the paper soon grew to one of the most successful black newspapers in the nation.

Author: 
Ann McFerrin

Kansas City, Missouri’s City Hall is located between 11th and 12th Streets and Oak and Locust in the downtown area.  This building is the third city hall that Kansas City has had since the incorporation of the City of Kansas in 1853.  The first City Hall was built in 1857 between Fourth and Fifth Streets and Main and Walnut on what had been the city’s “public square.” 

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

Elizabeth Bruce Crogman, who in 1925 became the founder of Kansas City’s Florence Home for Colored Girls (which housed unwed African American women who were pregnant), was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 1894. The home functioned as the counterpart to similar organizations that served the area's white residents but denied care to young black women. Under Crogman's guidance through the 1940s, the Florence Home for Colored Girls eventually expanded to offer counseling, education, shelter, and medical care to dozens of Kansas City's impoverished black mothers and children.

Author: 
Donna Francis

The Folly Theater at 12th and Central was built in 1900 as the Standard Theater.  Designed by the prominent Kansas City architect Louis S. Curtiss, it is an important example of turn-of-the-century architecture in the downtown area. 

Author: 
Janice Lee

When the new General Hospital opened its doors in October 1908, Kansas City was justifiably proud. Not only was the building a fine addition to the landscape, but the city could boast of being one of the few U.S. cities to provide free municipal health care for the indigent.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

In the midst of the Great Depression, Kansas City experienced a building boom that produced buildings and improvements across the city, as well as a civic plaza in the heart of downtown.  The Jackson County Courthouse was one of several public-use buildings that kept Kansas City architects and construction workers employed while jobs elsewhere were impossible to find.

Author: 
David Conrads

The Board of Trade building was the pride of downtown Kansas City when it was completed in 1888. Designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Burnham & Root, the building at 210 West Eighth Street was once praised by the renowned British architect James Stirling (1926-1992) as “the toughest building of its period on either side of the Atlantic.”

Author: 
Janice Lee

In 1931 the new Kansas City Power & Light Co. building dominated the landscape as Missouri's tallest building. It rose 31 stories high, the crowning 97-foot-high pillar of changing colored lights creating a jewel-like glow visible for miles around.  Decades later it remains notable both for its spectacular lighting and as a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

In the "golden age" of automobile racing in the 1920s, the best tracks designed for top-end speed were made of wood. The Kansas City Speedway Association accordingly constructed its speedway out of a million feet of lumber 2x4s, set on end and bolted together to form a 1.25-mile oval track. In contrast to traditional materials (primarily brick or dirt), the board tracks of the era allowed for very steep 45-degree banks around the curves to help the cars maintain faster speeds.

Author: 
Ann McFerrin

The Liberty Memorial, one of Kansas City’s most recognizable landmarks, is the only major memorial and museum in the United States dedicated to World War I. On November 29th, after an editorial in the Kansas City Journal newspaper suggested a monument memorializing those who served in the [first] World War, Kansas City’s City Council appointed well-known lumber businessman Robert A. Long as chairman of the “Committee of One Hundred.” 

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

By 1927, Kansas City had seen its share of extravagantly decorated theaters; effervescent praises overflowed the newspapers of the day upon construction of the Coates Opera House, the Willis Wood Theater, and the Shubert Theater.  But the completion of the Midland Theater in the fall of 1927 topped anything that Kansas City—or the Midwest—had ever seen.

Author: 
Susan Jezak Ford

When it was built, the Municipal Auditorium met the needs for a 20th century city’s functional, multi-use space with the most modern, elegant decor imaginable.  The building combined a variety of public-use interior spaces with technically advanced construction and encased it in a massive jewel of Art Deco design.

Author: 
Janice Lee

William Rockhill Nelson and Mary McAfee Atkins never met, but they shared an important dream: a fine art gallery for Kansas City. Decades after their deaths, the trust funds from their estates combined to create a museum so magnificent that it surely would have pleased them both.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On December 7, 1940, the U.S. Army Air Corps announced that the Fairfax Industrial District in Kansas City, Kansas, would host a North American Aviation B-25 bomber production plant to prepare for the possibility of the United States entering World War II. The medium-sized bombers would eventually prove crucial to the American strategic bombing campaigns in the European and Pacific theatres.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On the evening of November 24, 1927, the Pla-Mor Ballroom opened at 3142 Main Street to a crowd of 4,100 who reveled at its unprecedented size and modern style.

Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library
During a bright autumn day on October 1, 1933, nearly 2,000 people gathered in the shade of trees along the south side of Brush Creek to officially celebrate the opening of the University of Kansas City. Inspired speeches by Chairman of the Board Ernest E. Howard and Dr. Burris Jenkins, a prominent local minister, declared the founders' intention that the university should serve as an institution of opportunity for Kansas Citians who could not travel far away to attend college.
Author: 
Jason Roe
Kansas City Public Library

On January 22, 1882, future architect William Drewin Wight was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1911, he joined his older brother, Thomas, in Kansas City, where they created the architectural firm of Wight & Wight. The firm went on to profoundly influence Kansas City's architectural landscape with prominent designs that included the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Jackson County Courthouse, the Kansas City Life Insurance Company Building, and City Hall.

BUILDING MAP