Baltimore and Main Street: Historic Hotels and Theaters of Kansas City, Missouri

This brief walking tour offers an overview of Kansas City's historic entertainment district and includes several of the leading theaters and hotels of the early 1900s when jazz was king and prohibition was scarcely enforced thanks to the Pendergast Machine. Given its reputation as a "wide-open" city, this district was home to numerous theaters, social clubs, and entertainment venues. Proving the maxim that history repeats itself, those who take this walking tour will notice a host of modern and historic venues where they might enjoy live music and spirits. For those who prefer a quieter environment, the tour concludes at a historic bank that is now home to the Kansas City Public Library.

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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.
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.
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.
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.
Kansas City Power and Light Building
The Kansas City Power & Light Building is a leading historic landmark in the city’s Power & Light District. The building was constructed in 1931 and served as the headquarters for the Kansas City Power & Light Company for six decades. The building’s Art Deco style and ornate rooftop lantern quickly made it a Kansas City icon. In 2014 the KCP&L Building was sold after its last tenant left. It underwent refurbishments and reopened in 2016 as a luxury apartment complex. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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.
Mainstreet Theater, Kansas City, MO
Located in downtown Kansas City in Jackson County, Missouri, the four-story Mainstreet Theater is one of the city's most visible historic landmarks. First opened on October 30, 1921 during the vaudeville era, it was built for promoter Martin Beck by the distinguished architectural firm of C.W and Geo. L. Rapp of Chicago, who designed some of the most significant theaters in America in the 1920s and 1930s. It was the largest theater in the city until the Midland Theater was built in 1927, and it is distinctive for its Beaux Arts design and prominent Byzantine-style dome. With a seating capacity of 3,250, it was one of the first theaters of its type to cater to the working class. Between 1921-1949 it presented vaudeville acts, movies and traveling shows. It reopened in 2009 after being shuttered for a long period, and is currently owned by Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
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.
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.
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.
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.

This tour was created by Clio Admin on 07/15/18 .

This tour has been taken 686 times within the past year.

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