Natural and Cultural Features of Kansas City, Part 4: Financial District

Financial District includes includes buildings in the Commerce Trust Company Historic District and buildings along Grand and Walnut Streets. In the same general area, additional National Register-listed buildings in the area of Ilus Davis Park to the east are included in the discussion. This post covers 6th through 10th Street properties. Also, parks and National Register sites to the east of the Financial District between 6th and 10th Streets are described.

Commerce Trust Company Historic District (N39o6’10” W94o34’57”) includes bank structures between 9th, 10th, Walnut, and Main Streets. The district is considered a unique example of a large, unified complex of connected buildings in the city’s Financial District and urban core. The District includes three contributing structures (National Bank of Commerce, Commerce Tower, Commerce Garage) and a Sunken Garden adjacent to the Commerce Tower on Main Street, which is today used as a private playground.  National Bank of Commerce (Commerce Trust Company), 922 Walnut Street (N39o6’9” W94o34’56”), dates to 1908, and is also separately listed on the NRHP. The building is an American Movement, Beaux-Arts-style building with terra cotta ornament. It is 16 stories and considered one of the best examples of early skyscraper design. Also included in the district is the Commerce Garage, a 7-story Modern Movement parking garage now occupied on the lower level by CVS Pharmacy. Commerce Trust Company merged with the National Bank of Commerce in 1921 and survived the bank runs of the Great Depression to become the greatest banking dynasty in the history of Missouri. A bronze and copper clock adorms the southeast corner of the building and was installed in 1953. Commerce Tower, 911 Main Street at 9th Street (N39o6’11” W94o34’57”) is separately listed on the NRHP and dates to 1964. The tower is 32 stories and constructed in the Miesian style (after architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe), with a wide entrance plaza and concrete-clad appearance with glazed curtain walls. Typical of the style, the first two stories are slightly recessed at the base. It was the largest private office building in Missouri at the time of its construction. Commerce Trust Company left the building in 1985. Tenants today include luxury apartments and Park University.

NRHP-listed Buildings on 7th Street in the Financial District:

  • Kansas City Western Union Telegraph Building, 100 East 7th Street at Walnut (N39o6’20” W94o34’53”), is on the NRHP and dates to 1920. It houses the Pawn and Pint and Homestead Café.
  • Buick Automobile Company Building, 220 Admiral Boulevard (7th Street) at McGee Street (N39o6’20” W94o34’47”), is on the NRHP and dates to 1908. It was the first facility to be designed as an auto showroom and the first Buick dealership in Kansas City. Tudor Revival in style, it is now the Buick Lofts.
  • Kelley-Reppert Motor Company Building, 422 Admiral Boulevard between Page and Locust Streets (N39o6’20” W94o34’39”, is on the NRHP and dates to 1920. The Colonial Revival building with terracotta ornamentation was built to house a Ford auto dealership. Today it houses Savion, a renewable energy company.

NRHP-listed Buildings on 9th Street in the Financial District:

  • Grand Avenue Temple, 205 East 9th Street, is described under buildings on Grand Avenue
  • Pickwick Hotel, Office Building, Parking Garage, and Bus Terminal, 301 East 9th Street, 901 McGee Street, 300 East 10th Street, and 906 Oak Street (N39o6’11” W94o34’45”) dates to 1930. The Pickwick Hotel is a 10-floor, Art Deco facility representative of urban commercial buildings in the mid-20th It was frequented by Harry Truman in the 1930s.
  • The former Kansas City Public Library, 500 East 9th Street at Locust (N39o6’13” W94o34’37”), dates to 1895. It is now the Ozark National Life Building. The Second Renaissance Revival-style building symbolized the growing intellectual and cultural consciousness of 19th century Kansas City. The building housed major science and art collections, which became part of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kansas City Museum. The prominent frieze at the top of the building contains the names of 19th century authors and statesmen—Webster, Cooper, Hawthorne, Morse, Whittier, Benton, Maury, Irving, Lowell, Emerson, Holmes, Bryant, Agassiz, Longfellow, Bancroft, Motley, Prescott, Stowe, Alcott, Franklin, Hawthorne, Morse, and Whittier.
  • The Blackstone Hotel, 817 Cherry Street at 9th Street (N39o6’14” W94o34’33”), is vacant. The Colonial Revival Building dates to 1925 and is a rare example of a second-tier urban hotel. These served salesmen and were less ornate than the grand convention center hotels in the early 20th It was part of a hotel district extending along 9th, Locust, and Oak Streets, all of which are now gone. The hotels competed with, and ultimately lost out to, tourist courts and motels in the latter part of the 20th century.

Ilus Davis Park (N39⁰6’8” W94⁰34’40”) is 5 acres to the north of City Hall, between 9th and 11th Streets and Oak and Locust Streets. Trees are crabapple, red oak, and ginkgo. In the northeast corner of the park at 9th Street and Locust Street is the Bill of Rights Statue, erected in 1991 by the Judicial Conference of the United States, Committee on the Bicentennial of the Constitution. It includes 50 pairs of hands, representing freedom in each of the 50 states and all Americans of different race, sex, and religion who created and still impact the building block of the constitution, the Bill of Rights. Between 10th and 11th Street facing Oak Street is the Native Sons and Daughters of Greater Kansas City monument. The five-pointed star-shaped monument contains 10 panels, representative of the 10 counties in Kansas and Missouri that make up the greater Kansas City region (Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami, and Wyandotte in Kansas; and Cass, Clay, Jackson, Lafayette, Platte, and Ray in Missouri).

  • Panel 1, Grandeur, is represented by the Country Club Plaza, dating to 1922.
  • Panel 2, Early Culture and Explorers, is represented by the Chouteau Trading Post on the north bank of the Missouri River near present-day Chouteau Parkway, Kaw Point, Fort Osage, and mountain man Jim Bridger.
  • Panel 3, Westward Expansion, is represented by the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails,1833 Westport, and 1838 Town of Kansas.
  • Panel 4, Transportation, is represented by Grinter’s Kaw River Ferry and the Hannibal Railroad Bridge, the first Missouri River bridge.
  • Panel 5, Agriculture, is represented by the 1857 River Market and Longview Farm
  • Panel 6, Entrepreneurs, is represented by the Strang Line, 1906.
  • Panel 7, Arts and Education, is represented by the Jazz District.
  • Panel 8, Science and Research, is represented by area hospitals and Garmin.
  • Panel 9, Sports, is represented by the Negro National Baseball League
  • Panel 10 describes the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas City organization.

In the southwest corner of the park is the Ilus Davis Fountain on 11th Street. Ilus Winfield Davis (1917-1996) was mayor from 1963 to 1971 and President of the Board of Police Commissioners from 1971 to 1977.

City Employees Memorial is in the park on Locust Street between 10th and 11th Streets. The four columns honor public servants who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

NRHP-listed Buildings on Grand Boulevard in the Financial District:

  • S. Courthouse and Post Office, 811 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’14” W94o34’49”), dates to 1939. It was the site of the Swope Park Swimming Pool desegregation lawsuit in 1952, led by Thurgood Marshall. It is now the Courthouse Lofts.
  • Scarritt Building and Arcade, 818 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’13” W94o34’52”), is an early 11-story Chicago School skyscraper dating to 1906. The building implements the architectural concepts of Louis Sullivan. The entrance to the Scarritt Building is on Grand but it is connected to an arcade with an entrance on Walnut. The arcade is considered a unique example of the turn-of-the-century preoccupation with light, with two skylighted areas (light wells) in the center of the building. The main building contains an indentation designed to catch light from the south.
  • Grand Avenue Temple, 205 East 9th Street and Grand Avenue Temple Office Building, 903 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’12” W94o34’50”), date to 1909. The temple is considered the Mother Church of Methodism in Kansas City. The Temple is a Greek Revival building with a 1912 church organ. The office building is 12 stories and Neo-Classical in style. It was thought that the office building could help pay off the debt of church construction and supply supplemental funds for the church’s work. Both are early examples of reinforced concrete construction.
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (former location), 925 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’10” W94o34’50”), dates to 1921. The 21-story classical revival building is one of 12 buildings constructed as part of the national system of Federal Reserve banks. Facing Grand Boulevard are two two-story carved stone panels with female figures representing industry and commerce. The Spirit of Industry figure holds a sheaf of wheat and a hand spinning device (distaff) to represent agriculture. The Spirit of Commerce figure wears a coat of mail to signify security and holds the torch of progress and symbol of Mercury, god of commerce. Each figure stands above an eagle holding a shield emblazoned with 10-J, symbol of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The building is currently vacant (2021).
  • A. Long Building, 928 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’10” W94o34’52”), is a 14-story Italian Renaissance building which dates to 1906. It was the first skyscraper in Kansas City and was the home of Long-Bell Lumber Company, the world leader in the wholesale lumber market in the 20th century. The company got its start selling timber to settlers on the treeless western prairies. Long represented the lumber industry at the White House conference on environmental conservation in 1980 and promoted reforestation. The company merged with International Paper Company in 1956.
  • Dierks Building, 1000 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’7” W94o34’52”), is a modern movement skyscraper which dates to 1909, when the first five stories were constructed as the Gates Building. Dierks Lumber and Coal purchased the building in 1927 and expanded it to 17 stories. There is art deco detailing on the upper stories. Today the building is the Grand Boulevard Lofts.

NRHP-listed Buildings on Walnut Street in the Financial District:

  • Gumbel Building, 801 Walnut Street (N39o6’15” W94o34’54”), is 6 stories and dates to 1904; it was one of the earliest tall-reinforced concrete buildings constructed in the U.S. This method used twisted iron rods to strengthen concrete. At the corners are square piers with ornate terra cotta work, topped by Roman eagles. Ornate Italianate copper cornice tops the building, which is currently a Hampton Inn.
  • Waltower Building, 823 Walnut Street (N39o6’13’ W94o34’54”), dates to 1929 and is an early skyscraper (12 stories). It was built right before the stock market crash and could not attain full occupancy. Today it is the Waltower Loft Apartments.
  • Fidelity National Bank and Trust Company Building, 909 Walnut Street (N39o6’11” W94o34’54”), dates to 1931. The 35-story building, crowned by two towers, is the centerpiece of the Financial District. It is considered an excellent illustration of the Art Deco style of architecture and a signature work of the prominent Kansas City architects Hoit, Price, and Barnes. The building’s grandeur illustrates the bank’s importance in the nation. At the time it was built, Fidelity was the 100th largest bank in the United States. Unfortunately, the bank could not survive the depression and failed in 1932, one year after its signature building was completed. It is now apartments and commercial office space operated by Simbol Commercial.
  • National Bank of Commerce, 922 Walnut Street (N39o6’9” W94o34’56”), is described under the Commerce Trust Company Historic District.
  • Kansas City Title and Trust Building, 927 Walnut Street (N39o6’4” W94o34’54”), dates to 1922. The seven-story building was constructed in Commercial Block style with terra cotta ornamentation to handle valuable title documents. The firm approach to title insurance focused on the security of title documents, and the building was constructed to house the documents in fire-proof space. It is now United Missouri Bank.

NRHP-listed Buildings on Oak Street in the Financial District:

  • Stine and McClure Undertaking Company Building, 924 Oak Street (N39o6’9” W94o34’44”), dates to 1912 and was constructed in the Second Egyptian Revival style. The building was designed by Kansas City architect John McKecknie, who practiced in Kansas City’s boom years of the early 1900s. He was known as an innovator in concrete construction. The Egyptian Revival Style would go on to become most popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and this building anticipated this trend. The Egyptian preoccupation with the dead made the style appropriate for a mortuary company. The building is currently the Gatsby event space.
  • Insurance Building/Consumers Cooperative Association Building, 318 East 10th Street at Oak (N39o6’8” W94o34’43”), dates to 1920. CCA became Farmland Industries, the largest farmer-owned cooperative. The building is currently vacant.

East of the Financial District:

A.B.C. Storage and Van Company Building, 1015 East 8th Street between Harrison and Troost Avenues (N39o6’14” W94o34’13”), is on the NRHP and dates to 1908. The reinforced concrete building is an example of the fireproof commercial warehouse property type. It represents the rapid growth and diversification of the commercial storage industry in Kansas City. The company developed a moving and storage empire in Kansas City and was the headquarters for Oscar W. Thomas, founding chairman of Allied Van Lines. Allied Van Lines was a carrier agency, in which local firms booked business as agents of the company. The company operated at this location until about 2000. It is now Storage Mart.

Admiral Plaza Park (N39⁰6’17” W94⁰34’39”) is 1 acre bordered by 8th Street, Admiral Boulevard, Locust Street, and Oak Street, just south of I-35/70 at the State Route 9 junction. It is to the north of the U.S. Courthouse. A park bench at the corner of 8th and Locust Streets honors 32 trees planted in the park in 2008, honoring 32 years of leadership by the Centurions leadership development project of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Benton Boulevard between Gladstone/St. John Avenue and Linwood Boulevard (2.9 miles) is part of the Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District and was part of the original George Kessler 1906 Park and Boulevard system plan. On Benton are the National Register-listed Dorson Apartment Building, 912-918 Benton Boulevard (N39o6’6” W94o32’41”), which dates to 1906. The Dorson Apartments are a 3-story brick building, listed on the National Register because it is the oldest surviving example of the Kansas City Porch Style apartments. Majestic Apartments, 701 Benton Boulevard (N39o6’15” W94o32’38”), date to 1909 and are listed on the National Register as an example of the Square Brick Colonnade Apartment type. Stacked porches flank the central entrance, and Renaissance Revival square brick porch columns are a feature.

Harmony Park (N39⁰6’4” W94⁰32’47”) is 1 acre bordered by East 10th Street, Agnes Avenue, Bellefontaine Avenue, and 11th Street. There is a playground on Bellefontaine Avenue at 11th Street.

Hazelle, Inc., Building, 1224 Admiral Boulevard at Tracy Avenue (N39o6’20” W94o34’2”), is a three-story Tudor Revival style former synagogue dating to 1920, but the building was put on the National Register because of its association with Hazelle Hedges Rollins and her marionette business, which operated out of this building from 1958 to 1975. Marionettes are dolls that move through the manipulation of strings. Rollins created a niche within 20th century American puppetry by mass producing puppets for the education of children. In the mid-1970s, 50 employees produced marionettes, hand puppets, and accessories. The company became the largest puppet manufacturer in the world, producing 250,000 puppets annually. Rollins also received four patents for puppet design. The company closed in 1984 after her death. The Puppetry Arts Institute, 11025 East Winner Road, Independence, acquired the parts inventory and organizes puppet workshops. Other marionettes were donated to the Kansas City Museum, the University of Kansas, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution. The building is currently vacant (2021).

Margaret Kemp Park (N39⁰6’9” W94⁰34’18”) is 3 acres on East 10th Street, bordered by Harrison Street, 9th Street, and I-70. There is a ¼-mile trail and a playground. Across the street from the park is the National Register-listed Kansas City Masonic Temple, 903 Harrison Street (N39o6’11” W94o34’14”), which dates to 1911. The building is built in the Beaux Arts and Classical Revival style with opalescent art glass windows. It is owned by the Kansas City Masonic Historic Preservation Society.

Dr. Johnstone Lykins Square Park (N39⁰6’12” W94⁰32’3”) is 5 acres on East 8th Street, bordered by Myrtle Avenue, Jackson Avenue, and 7th Street. The park has athletic fields for baseball, basketball, and soccer, and includes a playground on 8th Street.

National Cloak and Suit Company, 5401 Independence Avenue at Hardesty Street (N39o W94o), dates to 1920. The main building and the powerhouse are on the National Register. National Cloak and Suit Company provided fashionable clothing to the rural housewife during the 1920s. The building was a mail-order house that served 22 states west of the Mississippi River. The company was taken over by another clothing warehouse and distribution company, National Bellas Hess and Company, which operated at the site until 1941. The U.S. government bought the site in 1941 and operated it and 22 acres of additional buildings as the Kansas City Quartermaster Depot until 1953. Once cleaned up of trichloroethylene-contaminated soil and groundwater, redevelopment of the site will be undertaken by the Hardesty Renaissance Economic Development Corporation.

9th and Van Brunt Athletic Fields Park (N39⁰6’4” W94⁰31’30”) is 12 acres. The park contains a playground, walking trails, baseball diamond, and soccer field. The viaduct traversed by Van Brunt Boulevard on the west side of the park is painted with flags of American countries.

The Paseo between Independence Boulevard and 18th Street (1.1 miles) is part of the Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District. The Paseo is Kansas City’s oldest, longest, and most prominent boulevard. It was part of the original George Kessler 1906 Parks and Boulevard System plan. The Women’s Leadership Fountain, Paseo and 9th Street, was completed in 1899. Contributing features to the historic district are:

  • Central walkway between 9th and 10th Streets (N39o6’9” W94o33’49”), including the August Robert Meyer Memorial. Meyer was the first president of the Parks Commission of Kansas City. The Paseo as a park-like boulevard was the vision of Meyer. It is named after the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. A statue of Meyer is just north of 10th The statue contains the following poem:

Houses and shops are man’s

But grass and trees and flowers

Are God’s own handiwork.

Undaunted this man planned and toiled

That dwellers in this place

Might ever freely taste the

Sweet delights of nature.

  • The Pergola and the walkway to the Pergola between 10th and 11th Streets (N39o6’4” W94o33’49”), dating to 1900.
  • Along the Paseo between 9th and 11th Streets are apartments constructed along the north end of the Paseo in its early days. These were listed on the National Regiser because they are an example of apartment development on the north end of the Paseo, as part of Kansas City’s oldest, longest, and most prominent boulevard. The Kessler Apartments, 924 Paseo (N39o6’8” W94o33’51”), date to 1896, and feature a two-story front porch on the south and east sides. Ellsworth Apartments, 928 Paseo (N39o6’8” W94o33’51”), date to 1906 and feature full-width front porches. Maryland Apartments, 930 Paseo (N39o6’7” W94o33’51”), date to 1901. The building was influenced by Beaux Arts Classicism in its architecture. Maples Apartments, 1401 East 10th Street at Lydia Avenue (N39o6’6” W94o33’53”), date to 1906, and are less than a block off the Paseo, constructed to be part of the Paseo apartment complex. The Parkview, 1000 Paseo (N39o6’6” W94o33’51”), dates to 1913; the five-story building has been used as both a hotel and apartments since it was constructed. Its architectural style is Beaux Arts Classicism with Prairie School influences. Generous Henderson House, 1016 Paseo (N39o6’4” W94o33’51”), dates to 1899. It is one of the few surviving examples in Kansas City of the Second Renaissance Revival architectural style and was the home of a prominent doctor who practiced in the city from 1880 to the 1920s.

Wiltshire Apartment Hotel, 703 East 10th Street at Holmes Street (N39o6’7” W94o34’29”), dates to 1928. It was built as middle-income and working-class apartments. The building contains Spanish Colonial Revival style ornamentation.