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.
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.
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 29 th , 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.”
Nell Donnelly and her chauffeur, George Blair, were kidnapped on December 16, 1931. Donnelly had become famous after her 1916 founding of the Donnelly Garment Company, which sold stylish but affordable dresses for daily wear by ordinary women. Backed by the sales of “Nelly Don’s,” as the dresses became known, the company grew into a multi-million dollar business with over 1,000 employees in the 1920s.
On June 17, 1933, four law enforcement officers and their prisoner, Frank Nash, were fatally wounded in a botched rescue attempt outside Union Station. The story of the Union Station Massacre, as it became known, centered on Frank Nash, who had been convicted of three separate crimes of a serious nature: murder, armed burglary, and then assault.
In the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave, the temperature reached a record-high 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Kansas City on August 14, 1936. These high temperatures in the summer of 1936 remain the most extreme in modern North American history. Compounding the problem, virtually no one had air conditioning in their own homes in the 1930s.
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.
On December 16, 1936, 1,000 employees of the Fisher Body plant located in the Leeds district of Kansas City sat down on the job to protest the recent firing of a worker and demand that General Motors recognize the unionization of autoworkers. What could have been merely a local dispute instead gave early momentum to one of the most significant labor-management confrontations of the twentieth century, the so-called General Motors Strike of 1936-37.
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.
Nightclub owner, raconteur, and aspirant to political office, Milton Morris was one of the great champions of Kansas City jazz. His storytelling skills, wisecracks and foot-long cigars also secured his reputation as one of the city's most colorful characters
Louis Oppenstein was a millionaire who served his community quietly, showing his appreciation for Kansas City. He served as president of the board of public works, city councilman, police commissioner, and as a member of the Board of Education. He was also very active in Kansas City's Jewish community, serving as a trustee of Congregation B'nai Jehudah, board member of Menorah Medical Center, and director of the Jewish Community Center.
Guy B. Park was a rather ineffectual governor bound to Thomas Pendergast's political machine by gratitude for putting him in office. Through Park's connection with the Pendergast organization, a great deal of federal money was diverted to Kansas City resulting in high dollar contracts going to Pendergast-machine owned businesses.
Politician, gambler, night club owner, newspaper publisher, and bon vivant, Felix Payne was one of the most influential African Americans in Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s.
Judge Albert L. Reeves despised Tom Pendergast and his Democratic machine. He felt that Pendergast corrupted the young men of Kansas City, especially those from the heavily Italian North End. Reeves particularly disdained the machine’s underhanded tactics involving voting fraud and eventually brought an end to Pendergast’s control of the ballot box.
Roy Roberts began his lifelong newspaper career delivering The Kansas City Star as a boy in Lawrence, Kansas. When he retired from The Star in January 1965, he had served the newspaper for 56 years as a reporter, managing editor, president, editor, and general manager. Roberts' 56 years with the newspaper took Kansas City readers through the Depression, the fall of the Pendergast machine, and many elections. He developed a national reputation for political savvy and his close acquaintances included Alf Landon, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson.
The son of a former slave, William J. Thompkins had a multi-faceted career as a physician, hospital administrator, newspaper publisher, and civil servant. A respected physician, Thompkins was involved in the founding of General Hospital No. 2, which opened in 1908, and by 1924 it was the first hospital in the U.S. to be staffed entirely by African Americans.
Joe Turner had a tremendous voice and a talent for improvising lyrics. He was called the "Boss of the Blues," and during the 1930s—Kansas City's musical heyday—"Big Joe" Turner was the greatest blues singer in town.
Claude "Fiddler" Williams didn't play the instrument for which he became best known until after he had already mastered the guitar, mandolin, banjo, cello, and bass. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on February 22, 1908, Williams began his musical career 10 years later.