Hotel President and the Drum Room
The Hotel President was one of the most popular hotels in downtown Kansas City’s Power & Light District. Opened in 1926, the President was just one of many luxurious hotels built in the city during this era. Notable guests have included Bob Dylan, Charles Lindbergh, and Presidents Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon. It hosted the headquarters for the 1928 Republican National Convention which nominated Herbert Hoover for President. The hotel’s Drum Room lounge, which opened in 1941, was serviced by numerous legendary entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, the Marx Brothers, the Glen Miller Orchestra, Sammy Davis Jr., Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. The President closed in the early 1980s and sat vacant for over 20 years. In 2006 the hotel underwent a $45 million renovation and reopened as a Hilton franchise, dubbed the Hilton President Kansas City. The President, along with multiple other hotels, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Backstory and Context
The Hotel President was built in 1926 by the United Hotels Company. Founded in 1910 by Niagara Falls businessman Frank Dudley, United Hotels was a national chain of luxury hotels and at one time was the largest hotel company in the world. The Hotel President was designed by the architectural firm of Shepard & Wiser and constructed at a cost of around three million dollars. The fourteen-story building contained 453 guest rooms and upon its opening was considered one of the most elegant and advanced hotels in all of Kansas City. It contained several meeting spaces and ballrooms such as the Aztec Room, Walnut Room, and Congress Room, and a two-story Presidential Suite. It also included modern features such as a public address system and an ice producing plant, the first in any Kansas City hotel. The hotel’s fame was cemented early in its history when it acted as the headquarters for the 1928 Republican National Convention. The convention nominated Herbert Hoover for president.
In 1941 the Hotel President underwent some renovations and opened a new cocktail lounge called the Drum Room. It was designed by the architectural firm of Neville and Sharp, who gave it a South Sea Island theme. It featured a giant kettle drum in the center as the bar, and large murals painted by New York artist Winold Reiss. The Drum Room frequently had live music and became perhaps the most popular lounge in the city, both for locals and visitors. A plethora of notable entertainers performed at the lounge, including Frank Sinatra, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Patsy Cline, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, the Marx Brothers, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Marilyn Maye.
The Hotel President closed around 1979 and sat vacant for over two decades. During this time a large amount of the hotel’s furniture, fixtures, silverware, and works of art were auctioned off to the public. During the early 2000s several proposals for the creation of the Power & Light entertainment district called for the hotel to be razed and replaced with a park. The Kansas City Council ultimately intervened to save the building from demolition in any of the plans. In 2002 the Hotel President was acquired by real estate developer Ron Jury, who launched a $45 million project to renovate the building into a modern hotel under the Hilton franchise. The lobby and several event spaces were restored to their 1940s appearance, and the Drum Room was reopened. The original 453 rooms were converted into 213 boutique rooms. The Hotel President reopened in early 2006 as the Hilton President Kansas City. For his efforts to save the hotel, Jury was given the Historic Preservation Award by the American Institute of Architect’s Kansas City chapter.
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“Return of the President: Kansas City’s Landmark President Hotel Reopens Today as the Hilton President Kansas City.” Business Wire. January 5, 2006. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20060105005465/en/Return-President-Kansas-Citys-Landmark-President-Hotel
Roberts, Rob. “Hilton President renovation features everything – but tax breaks.” Kansas City Business Journal. January 9, 2017. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2017/01/09/hilton-president-kansas-city-renovation-photos.html
Uguccioni, Ellen and Sherry Piland. “Downtown Hotels in Kansas City, Missouri.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form. 1981. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/64000395.pdf
Walser, Lauren. “Jazz Greats Still Echo At Drum Room Lounge in Kansas City.” National Trust for Historic Preservation. April 6, 2017. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://savingplaces.org/stories/drum-room-lounge-in-kansas-city#.W00mr-v3arV
Image 1: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25229906@N00/6308432058
Images 2 & 3: Missouri Valley Special Collections
Image 4: http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/missouri/hilton-president-kansas-city-MCIPRHF/index.html
Image 5: http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hilton-president-kansas-city/restaurants/drum-room-lounge.php