From the time of its construction in 1915 to mid-century, the Muehlebach Hotel was one of the centers of Kansas City social life. The luxurious hotel was built by the son of the city's famous brewer and hosted celebrities, famous athletes, and even presidents and foreign dignitaries. The hotel is also the site of the first band performance to be broadcast over the radio, the birthplace of the Barbershop Harmony Society, and the place where Harry Truman stayed while waiting for the 1948 presidential election results. The Muehlebach, along with several other downtown hotels, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. After closing in 1986, the Muehlebach was acquired by Marriott Hotels and incorporated into the Kansas City Marriott Downtown. In 2018 it was announced that Platform Ventures will convert the historic hotel into an apartment building.
Backstory and Context
The Muehlebach Hotel was constructed in 1915 by local businessman George E. Muehlebach (1881-1955). Son of the famous brewer George Muehlebach (1833-1905), George E. Muehlebach expanded beyond his father’s brewery enterprise and into the real estate business. Under the banner of the Muehlebach Estate Company, he purchased a plot of land on the corner of 12th Street and Baltimore Avenue, at the site of the former First Baptist Church, in 1914. Muehlebach demolished the church and began construction of a 500-room hotel building. The twelve-story building was designed in the Beaux-Arts Classicism style by the Chicago architectural firm of Holabird and Roche. The hotel opened in May 1915 and immediately garnered attention for its level of elegance and luxury. The Muehlebach boasted restaurants, a banquet hall, a ballroom, a tearoom, a music room, a drawing room, and a professional staff with experience in hotels around the world.
The hotel flourished over the next several decades and hosted numerous parties, meetings, and other social gatherings both for local and national groups. It attracted a number of celebrities; guests included Babe Ruth, Ernest Hemingway, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Helen Keller, and every U.S. president from Theodore Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter. Harry Truman reportedly spent so much time at the Muehlebach during his administration that it was nicknamed the “White House West.” It was at the hotel’s Presidential Suite that Truman and his staff awaited the results of the 1948 presidential election. Other historic events took place at the Muehlebach as well. In the hotel’s Plantation Grill on December 5, 1922, the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks Orchestra became the first band to perform regularly over the radio. In March 1938, O. C. Cash met Rupert Hall at the Muehlebach; after discovering that they shared a passion for barbershop quartet singing, they went on to form what is now the international Barbershop Harmony Society.
In 1931, prominent local hotel operator Barney Allis became owner and manager of the Muehlebach. His strict management, high expectations, and demand for outstanding quality kept the hotel afloat during the Great Depression and made it one of the most reputable hotels in the world. Under Allis the hotel expanded twice in the 1950s. An eleven-story addition was built to the west of the original building in 1952, followed by an eighteen-story addition, known as the Muehlebach Towers, in 1957. A five-story hotel convention center was also later built in 1965. Allis sold the hotel in 1962 and passed away just months later. The Muehlebach was eventually purchased by Radisson Hotels in 1976 and became its flagship property.
After peaking in popularity in the 1950s and 60s, the Muehlebach began to decline in the 1970s and 80s as business shifted away from the downtown portion of Kansas City. Radisson closed the hotel in 1986. It remained vacant until 1996 when it was purchased by Marriott Hotels, which incorporated it into the nearby Kansas City Marriot Downtown hotel. The Muehlebach Towers was demolished in 1998 and replaced with a new hotel tower connected to the original Muehlebach with a sky bridge. Marriott also renovated and restored the hotel’s lobby and public spaces, which it continues to rent out for events. The hotel rooms have remained closed since 1986. In 2018 it was announced that Platform Ventures would be converting the Muehlebach’s hotel rooms into a 117-unit apartment complex at a cost of $26.5 million.
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Lynch, Brian. “Kansas City celebrates Society’s 80th anniversary.” Barbershop Harmony Society. April 6, 2018. Accessed July 14, 2018. http://www.barbershop.org/kansas-city-prepares-for-80th-anniversary-celebrations/
“Muehlebach Hotel.” Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Accessed July 14, 2018. https://www.trumanlibrary.org/places/kc11.htm
Rodriguez, Lisa. “Kansas City’s Hotel Muehlebach: 100 Years Of Memories.” KCUR. May 22, 2015. Accessed July 14, 2018. http://kcur.org/post/kansas-citys-hotel-muehlebach-100-years-memories#stream/0
Roe, Jason. “A Beer Baron Is Born.” Missouri Valley Special Collections. Accessed July 14, 2018. http://www.kchistory.org/week-kansas-city-history/beer-baron-born
Ronnebaum, Michael. “Barbershop quartets to celebrate musical history at KC’s Muehlebach Hotel.” 98.1 fm KMBZ. April 11, 2018. Accessed July 14, 2018. https://kmbz.radio.com/articles/barbershop-quartets-celebrate-musical-history-kcs-muehlebach-hotel
Uguccioni, Ellen and Sherry Piland. “Downtown Hotels in Kansas City, Missouri.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form. 1981. Accessed July 14, 2018. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/64000395.pdf
Image 1: https://cityscenekc.com/major-redevelopment-plan-includes-historic-kansas-city-club-muehlebach-hotel-buildings/
Images 2-8: Missouri Valley Special Collections