Downtown Kansas City History Walking Tour

This walking tour makes a loop through downtown Kansas City, Missouri and includes highlights of the city including historic buildings, markers and monuments, and several of the city's trademark fountains. The tour concludes at the location of a historic hotel that is now home to several popular bars and eateries. Enjoy!

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Kansas City Missouri City Hall and Observation Deck
Located on a hill, this 29-story skyscraper offers the very best views in the city. Planning for the building began in 1931 following a special referendum in which Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved the city's "ten year plan" for infrastructure and public works development. The building design was heavily influenced by city political boss Tom Pendergast, whose concrete company profited from the city contract, as did other construction firms connected to the Pendergast political machine. This building is not only one of the ten tallest buildings in Kansas City, it is the fourth-tallest city hall in the world.
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Pickwick Complex
The Pickwick Complex, also known as the Pickwick Hotel or Pickwick Plaza, is a historic early multi-purpose building in downtown Kansas City. Built in 1929-1930, its location near local and federal government buildings made it a popular place for visitors conducting business. In addition to a hotel, the complex also housed offices, retail space, a parking garage, and a bus terminal. In the early 1930s the Pickwick Hotel was a favorite retreat for future President Harry Truman, who stayed there while writing of memoir of his political thoughts later called the “Pickwick Papers.” The complex went through a period of decline in the latter half of the twentieth century as the hotel was converted into subsidized housing and other portions were left vacant. It was eventually acquired by Gold Crown Properties, and in 2017 was converted into modern apartments following extensive renovations. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
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R. A. Long Building, Kansas City
The R. A. Long Building was constructed by Robert Alexander Long in 1906 as the headquarters for the Long-Bell Lumber Company. At this time, Long-Bell was one of the largest lumber companies in the nation and Kansas City was a growing city and a distribution center. The construction boom in Kansas City, Omaha, and surrounding cities also made this an important market for the lumber industry. The Italian Renaissance building was designed by Henry Hoit and was notably the first steel frame tower in Kansas City. In 1956, the Long-Bell Lumber Company merged with the International Paper Company and two years later, the R. A. Long Building was purchased by what is now the UMB Financial Corporation. UMB continues to use this building for its offices and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
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Kansas City Federal Reserve Building (1921-2008)
The building on 925 Grand Boulevard was constructed in 1921 as the home of the new Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. It was one of twelve Federal Reserve banks established around the country as part of the 1913 Federal Reserve Act, which created a central bank system. The building housed the bank until 2008 when it moved to a new headquarters in Penn Valley Park. It has remained vacant since then, but is currently in the process of being converted into a hotel complex. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
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Commerce Trust Building
The Commerce Trust Building, also known as the National Bank of Commerce Building, is the headquarters for the Commerce Bank of Kansas City. The bank originally began under Francis Reid Long, who migrated to Kansas City in 1865 with $20,000 to invest in the growing city. The timing of the bank's founding after the Civil War was ideal as the city was chosen as the terminus of several railroads and included the first railroad bridge connecting this area with Missouri. The bank grew rapidly and its founders determined to create a new headquarters building in the heart of Kansas City’s growing business district. Designed by Jarvis Hunt, the Commerce Trust Building was constructed between 1907 and 1908 by the George A. Fuller Company. The fifteen-story building has maintained most of its historic features, such as its large bronze and copper clock.
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Muse of the Missouri
Also known as the David Woods Kemper Memorial, the Muse of the Missouri sculpture and fountain was dedicated in 1962 to the memory of David Woods Kemper, who was killed in action during World War II in Italy. It was a gift to the city by his parents Mr. and Mrs. James Kemper. Artist Wheeler Williams created the sculpture and designed the fountains. The sculpture depicts a muse, a Greek goddess of arts and sciences, with a fishing net from which fish fall to the the pool below. The water fountain consists of three pools that are filled by two hundred water spouts.
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New York Life Building of Kansas City
The New York Life building is a high-rise in the Library District of Kansas City. Built in a Neo-Renaissance style between 1887-90 by famous New York City architects McKim, Mead and White, it was a symbol of Kansas City’s prosperity in the late 19th-century as well as its reliance and faith in the money coming from the East, as Kansas City stood as a gateway to the West. The New York Life building is also considered to be Kansas City’s first skyscraper. The building mirrored the potential and investment coming to the area from all over the country, and it was the first manifestation of this prosperity. Today, the New York Life building is a centerpiece of the Library District neighborhood, and in 1970, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Kansas City Public Library
Located in the historic former headquarters of First National Bank, the Central Library serves as the major resource library for the Kansas City Public Library system. Offering breathtaking galleries and reading rooms, and an ingenious parking garage that looks like a bookshelf, the Central Library is consistently included in lists of the most beautiful public libraries in the United States. The former bank vault is now home to the Stanley H. Durwood film collection, while the old bank's 35-foot ceilings add grandeur to the main reading room. Located on the fifth floor of the Central Library, the Missouri Valley Room is the premiere collection of rare books and one-of-a-kind historical records related to the history of Kansas City. Patrons may use the reading room to view archival and genealogical materials that do not circulate beyond the library.
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Historical Marker: Camp Union
Dedicated by the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas City in 1957, this marker commemorates Camp Union, a small fort built by U.S. troops at this location in 1861. It consisted of barracks and service buildings surrounded by a 200 square foot earthwork. Various companies of the U.S. Reserve Corps were stationed here to protect Kansas City from Confederate attacks beginning in June 1861. Troops would remain here for the duration of the war.
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The Savoy Grill and Hotel
The Savoy Grill, located at 219 W 9th Street, was a location frequented by Harry S. Truman. He ate there so enough that they placed a plaque in booth number four, designating his favorite place to sit. Until recently, individuals were able to eat at the restaurant and view different historic items, such as a job application from Truman. The Grill has served as an important part of Kansas City’s history, both socially and economically.
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Eighth Street Fountain
In the decades after World War I, this section of downtown Kansas City, known as the Garment District, became a major clothing manufacturing site. Dozens of garment companies employed thousands of workers here until the industry evaporated in the 1970s and 1980s. Today the Garment District is now primarily a residential and commercial area. The Eighth Street Fountain was erected in 1989 by the Historic Garment District Group to commemorate this important part of the city's history.
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Corps of Discovery Sculpture
On September 15, 1806 the Lewis and Clark expedition, on its return journey from the Pacific Ocean, arrived at this location and camped nearby for two days before continuing down the river. The leaders, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, noted that this spot, which is on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and surrounding landscape, would be a good place for a fort. This was one of their last stops during the expedition, which concluded on September 23 in St. Louis. In April 2000 Kansas City placed a statue at West Terrace Park to commemorate the expedition's journey through the area. It depicts Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea, along with Clark's slave York and Lewis' dog Seaman.
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Historical Marker: The Old French Cemetery
This marker indicates the location of a cemetery that existed here from at least the 1830s to 1877. It is referred to as the Old French Cemetery because most of the graves were of the early Kansas City pioneers, who were French in origin. Near this location was the St. Francis Regis church, which served as the main religious and social center for the community. Around 1877, the city's growth forced the cemetery to close; the graves were removed and re-interred in the Mount St. Mary's Cemetery.
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Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a historic Catholic church in Kansas City. Constructed in 1883, it served as the cathedral for the Diocese of Kansas City, and today is a co-cathedral for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The cathedral stands on the site of the first permanent church in Kansas City, built by popular civic leader Father Bernard Donnelly in 1857; it was also the site of St. Francis Regis, the first church ever in Kansas City, built in 1835. The cathedral is known in the community for its iconic golden dome. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 as part of the Quality Hill Historic District. Next to the cathedral are two historical markers; one commemorates Father Bernard Donnelly, while the other commemorates the St. Francis Regis church.
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Folly Theater, Kansas City
The historic Folly Theater is Kansas City’s oldest theater and entertainment venue, dating back to 1900. It still operates as a functional theater today (showing live theater, jazz performances, national touring shows, and other programs) and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the Folly Theater is seen as a place of quality, family entertainment, the theater’s origins were based in vaudeville, burlesque, and, later, striptease performances, showcasing nationally acclaimed artists such as Gypsy Rose Lee and Tempest Storm. In the 1920s, however, the Folly Theater (then named the "Shubert's Missouri”) produced dramatic productions and even featured the Marx Brothers and a young Humphrey Bogart. After falling into disrepair in the 1970s, the KCMO community took up the cause and saved the Folly Theater, and it is now one of the most important theatrical and historical sites in the downtown area.
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Barney Allis Plaza Fountain
This large fountain, almost a block long, was built in 1985 as part of a redesign effort of the Barney Allis Plaza, named after the manager of the former Muehlbach Hotel, which was located across the street; the building is now part of the Marriott Hotel. Allis managed the hotel for three decades beginning in 1931. Despite his short stature of 5 foot 3 inches, Allis had a tremendous presence and ran the hotel with an iron fist. He was a perfectionist and demanded the best from hotel employees. His leadership bolstered the hotel's reputation which compelled a number of celebrities, including the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and future President Harry Truman, to choose to stay there. The fountain is on the north end of the plaza and features 112 water jets. The plaza was first created in 1956.
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Baltimore Hotel, 1899-1938
One of the largest hotels beyond New York City and perhaps the most luxurious hotels in the West prior to World War II, the Baltimore Hotel was the center of social life and politics in Kansas City during the first half of the 20th century. The hotel was popular among local business leaders, visiting celebrities, and even played an integral role in national politics. A young Harry Truman had many fond memories at this hotel-including his role (which he later denied) in bringing a live moose into the hotel during one of the Democratic Party's national conventions.
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Kansas City's Newman Theater (1919-1972)
The Newman Theater was a popular movie theater that existed on Main Street from 1919 until 1972. It was one of several built by local exhibitor Frank L. Newman. The Newman Theater was known for its opulence and extravagant features, such as Italian tapestries and hand-painted murals. The theater is also noteworthy for being the first site to air a production by Walt Disney, a series of short satirical cartoons called Newman Laugh-O-Grams. They were fully animated by Disney himself and screened during newsreels in 1921. In the 1940s the Newman became a Paramount Theater, and was eventually closed and demolished in 1972. Today the site is occupied by City Center Square.
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Muehlebach Hotel
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.
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Kansas City Club Building
This building on 1228 Baltimore Avenue served as the headquarters for the prestigious Kansas City Club for nearly 80 years. The Club was first formed in 1882 to provide a place for the city’s business class to relax and socialize. In 1922 it constructed the Gothic Revival style building as a clubhouse. The building contained various amenities for club members including guest rooms, meeting spaces, athletic facilities, and a banquet hall. The club sold the building in 2001 due to declining membership and it was turned into apartments. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. In 2018 it was announced that the building will be converted into a 144-room hotel. The building also offers luxury event spaces called the Brass on Baltimore.
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The Midland Theatre
The Midland Theatre is a historic entertainment venue in the Power & Light District of Kansas City. It first opened in 1927 as Loew’s Midland Theater; at the time it was the third-largest theater in the United States. It became well known for its opulent interior, which included features such as gold leafing, hand-cut crystal chandeliers, and other ornamentations. After the original theatre closed in 1961, it was acquired and operated by AMC for a number of years. It underwent extensive renovations and restorations in 2008. Today the theatre is sponsored by Arvest Bank, and is formally known as the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland. It hosts a number of live shows and performances throughout the year. The theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
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Jenkins Music Company Building
The Jenkins Music Company Building in Kansas City, Missouri, was originally constructed in 1911-1912. The building was built to serve as the general offices, retail headquarters and the wholesale division of the prominent musical instrument and music publishing firm, the Jenkins Music Company, founded in 1878 by John Wesley Jenkins, Sr. During the 1890’s, the Jenkins Company became one of the largest manufacturers of guitars and mandolins in the world and one of the most distinguished publishers of sheet music in the nation. The structure was designed by locally-based architectural firm, Smith, Rea & Lovitt, especially by the firm's senior partner, Charles A. Smith. It is a significant example of unaltered, Modernistic-style commercial architecture, combining Late Gothic Revival and Art Deco decorative elements. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
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National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame
The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, located in Kansas City, Missouri, occupies about one-third of the College Basketball Experience at the Sprint Center. This hall of fame compliments the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame by recognizing coaches, players, and teams that have made significant contributions to college basketball. Visitors can honor college basketball legends and learn about the history of the game by not just observing but by experiencing college basketball for themselves.
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Jackson County Courthouse, Kansas City
The Kansas City branch of the Jackson County Courthouse was established in 1872. The current building was constructed in 1934 under Presiding Judge and future president Harry Truman. The ornate, Art Deco building was one of several structures built during the 1930s as part of a “Ten Year Plan” to sustain economic growth and provide employment in Kansas City during the Great Depression. Today the building primarily houses facilities for both municipal court and the Missouri 16th Judicial Circuit Court.

This tour was created by Peyton Malancuk on 06/17/17 .

This tour has been taken 636 times within the past year.

ResponsiveVoice used under Non-Commercial License