Natural and Cultural Features of Kansas City, Part 9: Government District and East

Many of the city, county, and federal buildings of Kansas City are east of Main Street and between 11th and 15th Street (Truman Road). This includes the Power & Light District, which is a bar and restaurant area near the T-Mobile Center, a sports arena and entertainment venue. East of the Government District are several other historic sites and parks that are included for convenience, such as The Paseo and a park at 12th and Vine.

East 12th Street, 13th Street, and 14th Street

Chambers Building, 25 East 12th Street at Walnut (N39o5’59” W94o34’57”), dates to 1915. The commercial style structural steel building is 12 stories, with Gothic Revival elements at the terminating story. The building is listed because of its association with Charles A. Smith, 1866-1948, an early Kansas City architect. This is considered his most accomplished design still remaining. It is now the Chambers lofts and includes a restaurant at the street level.

Oppenstein Brothers Memorial Park, 12th and Walnut Streets, Kansas City (N39o6’1” W94o34’55”) is a Jackson County Park with the Star Disk (2008), a public art sculpture inspired by the ancient anaphoric clock. This can be positioned to line up with the current date. The disk shows the positions of stars overhead on that date. On the sidewalks surrounding the Star Disk are 15 life-sized flat bird sculptures representing native migratory birds that pass through Kansas City. These are the house wren, scissor-tailed flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, common goldeneye, peregrine falcon, common snipe, ruby-throated hummingbird, green heron, hooded merganser, barn swallow, northern mockingbird, belted kingfisher, eastern kingbird, whip-poor-will, and rock pigeon. The clock is surrounded with redbud, maple, and golden rain trees. A historic marker memorializes the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, established 1916. It was the forerunner of the National Restaurant Association which remained in Kansas City until 1927.

Argyle Building, 306 East 12th Street at McGee (N39o6’0” W94o34’46”) dates to 1906. It is a 10-story, U-shaped steel and reinforced concrete building with late Renaissance Revival style. The property type is described as Two-Part Vertical Block. Kansas City reinforced concrete buildings were among the earliest in the nation. This one was designed by architect Louis Curtis (1865-1924), who also designed the Standard Theatre (300 West 12th Street) and Boley Building (1130 Walnut Street). At this period in Kansas City history, the building was used as a medical office building and was exclusively leased to them at its beginning. At the time it opened, it was one of the largest office buildings downtown. The Katz Drug Company was founded based on a street-level store in this building. It went expanded to a chain of 47 stores in 5 states.

Prospect Plaza Park (N39⁰5’59” W94⁰33’9”) is 7 acres bordered by 11th Street, 12th Street, Olive Street, and Prospect Street. There is a playground, basketball court, and soccer field.

Sheffield Park (N39⁰5’55” W94⁰30’6”) is 11 acres on East 12th Street between Ewing Avenue and Winchester Avenue. It extends north to 10th Street. The park is on a hill overlooking the Blue River bottoms. There is a playground, picnic shelter, baseball field, basketball court, and soccer field.

Elmwood Cemetery (N39o5’47” W94o31’32”) is a 43-acre site at 4900 East Truman Road, dating to 1872 and operated by the Elmwood Cemetery Society. The north boundary is 12th Street, the east boundary is Van Brunt Boulevard, and the south boundary is Truman Road. It is the second oldest cemetery in Kansas City, after Union Cemetery, and houses the graves of Kansas City’s prominent early citizens. Many built architecturally distinct markers and vaults. The cemetery was designed by George Kessler, the architect of Kansas City’s parks and boulevards system, as a “rural cemetery.” These were built in response to the growing awareness of public health issues in the 19th century, which resulted in a push to move burial grounds outside of the main city into a rural area. As a rural cemetery, it was landscaped to be an area of peaceful beauty, with a park-like setting. The first rural cemetery was Mount Auburn, Boston, built in 1832. A variety of trees native to Kansas City were present on site at construction and remain. The southwest corner of the cemetery had a Jewish section, which today includes 2,000 graves. Structures on site include the public vault and crematorium (1897), entrance gate and fence (1900), Kirkland B. Armour Chapel (1904), the cemetery office (1925), and the Waldo Vault (1892).

Inter-State Building, 417 East 13th Street at Locust (N39o5’54” W94o34’40”), dates to 1915. The six-story reinforced concrete building is considered a textbook example of Chicago style curtain-wall construction and has Sullivanesque ornamentation. When the building first opened, a tenant was the Interstate Commerce Commission, and it is believed that is how the building received its name. Over the years it had a large number of tenants. It is currently (2021) the Holiday Inn Express.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 1307 Holmes Street (N39o5’53” W94o34’29”), dates to 1887, and is considered an excellent example of Late Gothic Revival style architecture. The altar decorations, which date to 1887, were created in an endolithic process. This involved infusing color through marble by applying heat.  This is the most important altar made utilizing the endolithic process, which was lost when manufacturing techniques and formulas were destroyed by competing craftsmen.

Freeway Park (N39⁰5’46” W94⁰32’36”) is 2 acres on East 14th Street at Indiana Avenue. It is gated and now being used as a community garden.

Parks and Boulevards Historic District

Benton Boulevard between Gladstone Boulevard/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. The Grove Park (N39⁰5’38” W94⁰32’49”) is 11 acres on Benton Blvd at Truman Road. It includes a picnic shelter, playground, pool, baseball, and basketball facilities. It was part of the original George Kessler 1906 Park and Boulevard system plan. The park is bordered by Truman Road on the north, Benton Boulevard on the West, and Benton Plaza, a street on the south and east sides. Benton Plaza, a street on the south side of The Grove Park, is part of the Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District.

The Paseo between Independence Boulevard and 18th Street (1.1 miles) is part of the Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District. It was part of the original George Kessler 1906 Parks and Boulevard System plan and is the oldest, longest, and most prominent of the original boulevards. The Reverend John Wesley Williams Statue is at Paseo and Truman Road, commemorating a religious and civil rights leader of the 20th century. Contributing features to the historic district are:

  • The Pergola and the walkway to the Pergola between 10th and 11th Streets (N39o6’4” W94o33’49”), dating to 1900.
  • Central Walkway between 11th and 12th Streets (N39o6’0” W94o33’49”). The area was designated as the Black Veterans Memorial in 2010. According to a sign on 11th Street, “the plaza is dedicated to honor Black Americans who have served and are serving America with unsung distinction in our quest for freedom and peace around the world.” Roses and swamp white oak trees line the walkway.
  • Twelfth Street Terrace (N39o5’58” W94o33’50”), dating to the 1890s and the William T. Fitzsimons Memorial Fountain, dating to 1922. The inscription states that “This fountain is erected in memory of William T. Fitzsimons, 1st Medical Corp., U.S.A., killed in France Sept. 1917, the first American officer to give his life in the Great World War for liberty”
  • Oval concrete pedestrian walkway between 12th and 13th Streets (N39o5’55” W94o33’50”) contains a Spanish cannon facing south from 12th and Paseo, engraved with the mark of the royal arsenal at Seville, “Sevilla 24 de Abril de 1856, Sancho el Bravo.” It also has the royal cipher of Queen Isabel II. It was captured at Santiago, Cuba, in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. The armaments captured were distributed to the various states. This one arrived in Kansas City and was dedicated at this site in 1899. This is one of the few that was not melted down during scrap metal drives that took place during World War II.

Other features along the Paseo between 11th and 15th Streets are:

  • Virginia Apartments, 1100 Paseo (N39o6’1’ W94o33’52”), date to 1911. The four-story building exhibiting Beaux Arts Classicism is considered an example of apartment development at the north end of the Paseo.
  • McMahon Apartments, 1106 Paseo (N39o6’1” W94o33’52”), date to 1913. The three-story building with a prominent front porch extending the full height and width of the building exhibits Beau Arts Classicism and is considered an example of apartment development at the north end of the Paseo. It is vacant (2021).
  • New England Apartments, 1116 Paseo (N39o6’1” W94o33’52”), date to 1905. The four-story building with twin, full-height brick porches exhibits Beaux Arts Classicism and Prairie School influences. It is considered an example of apartment development at the north end of the Paseo. The building is vacant (2021).
  • Circle Apartments, 1200 Paseo (N39o5’57” W94o33’53”), date to 1902. The four-story building exhibiting Beaux Arts Classicism was built on a crescent design that curves around the corner. There are two full-height porches. It is representative of apartment development at the north end of the Paseo. The building is vacant (2021).
  • Goin’ to Kansas City Plaza (Paseo Green Park) (N39⁰5’59” W94⁰33’46”) is 5 acres on Paseo at East 12th The plaza is shaped like a grand piano, symbolic of Kansas City’s 12th and Vine entertainment center which fell victim to urban renewal in the 1970s. The 1952 song, Goin’ to Kansas City, was recorded by Wilbert Harrison, Little Richard, the Beatles, and James Brown. It was designated as Kansas City’s official song in 2005. The park commemorates 12th Street, from Quality Hill to Vine, as the entertainment center of Kansas City. In addition to clubs and entertainment venues, the street housed Truman’s men’s clothing shop in the 1920s, hotels, and theaters (Standard Theater, 300 West 12th Street, is still extant). In the clubs east of Troost, both Black and white patrons freely mixed. At 12th and Vine, the Lonestar, Orchid Room, Castle Theater, Jockey Club, and Boulevard Room were famous venues and hosted Red Foxx, Billie Holiday, and the Ravens. To the west toward downtown were the Reno Club, Sunset Club, Green Leaf Gardens, and Bar-Lu-Duc, which hosted Charlie Parker.
  • Maine Apartments, 1300 Paseo (N39o5’52” W94o33’53”), date to 1901. The three-story building exhibiting Beaux Arts Classicism contains a full-height front porch. It is representative of apartment development at the north end of the Paseo. The building is vacant (2021).
  • Missouri Apartments, 1304 Paseo (N39o5’52” W94o33’53”), date to 1901. The three-story building exhibiting Beaux Arts Classicism contains a full-height front porch. It is representative of apartment development at the north end of the Paseo. The building is vacant (2021).

Walnut, Grand, and McGee Streets

Mercantile Bank and Trust Building (Wall Street Tower), 1101 Walnut Street (N39o6’3” W94o34’54”), dates to 1973. The 20-story building expresses Modern Movement architecture. It is considered Mesian in style with spare rectilinear sections. But the most dramatic part of the building is building is an enormous structural “space transfer” truss which forms the three-story bottom of the tower. The truss tapers at the bottom and transfers the weight of the tower into columns and the three-story base. This tapered feature makes the structure distinctive and unique in Kansas City. A retail plaza is sunken below the street level. The building earned the 1976 Distinguished Building Award from the American Institute of Architects, Chicago Chapter. The lower level houses The Clubhouse Experience restaurant.

Boley Building, 1130 Walnut Street (N39o6’0” W94o34’57”), is a six-story building dating to 1909. Known as the coolest office in Kansas City, it features the first-ever use of a metal-and-glass curtain wall and rolled steel columns. It is an example of Chicago-style design. It anticipated the next curtain wall building, the Halladie Building in San Francisco, by 10 years and other similar 1950s-era buildings by 40 years. Today it is occupied by Andrews McMeel Universal, an independent global media company, and serves as the company’s headquarters.

Jenkins Music Company Building, 1217 Walnut Street (N39o5’58” W94o34’54”), includes a six-story wing which dates to 1911 and an eight-story addition dating to 1931. The building is considered to have Late Gothic Revival and Art Deco design elements. Jenkins was the largest manufacturer of guitars and mandolins in the country and one of the most distinguished publishers of sheet music in the country. It operated until 1973 when sold. The building is currently loft space.

Professional Building, 1101 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’3” W94o34’50”), dates to 1929. The 16-story structure was the earliest example of the Modernistic style in Kansas City. Others that followed were City Hall, Jackson County Courthouse, Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City Power & Light Building, and Bryant Building. It was designed as a medical building for the use of doctors and dentists. The façade is Art Deco. It is today the Professional Building Lofts.

Bryant Building, 1102 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’3” W94o34’52”), dates to 1930. The 26-story, Art Deco style building is considered an adaptation of Eliel Saarinen’s 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower design. It contains highly stylized geometric brass grilles at the walls of the entrance. Window and door enframements have grape leaf and geometric relief on the brass. Plaster friezes have a sunflower motif. The building is named after John A. Bryant, a doctor in early Kansas City. The land where the building was built was owned by his heirs when the building was constructed. Today it is occupied by Netrality Data Centers.

Gate City National Bank Building, 1111 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’2” W94o34’50”), dates to 1920. The 6-story, Neo-Classical style building includes classical and modern features, including terra cotta ornamentation. The structure is now the Ambassador Hotel, an Autograph Collection Hotel.

Trader’s National Bank Building, 1125 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’0” W94o34’50”), is a 21-story Modern Movement Office Tower. The parking garage dates to 1956 and the office tower to 1962. This was the first commercial high-rise in Kansas City to express Modern Movement design. The reinforced concrete roof and the curtain wall set a new record in Kansas City for their height. It is now The Grand luxury apartments.

Palace Clothing Company Building, 1126 Grand Boulevard (N39o6’1” W94o34’52”), dates to 1924. The seven-story building is richly ornamented in terra cotta and tapestry brick. It is considered the most impressive example of Chicago-style architecture in Kansas City. Palace Clothing, which sold men’s clothing, became the largest clothing store of its kind in the West. It closed in 1964. The building is currently vacant (2021).

Bonfils Building, 1200 Grand Boulevard (N39o5’59” W94o34’53”), dates to 1925. The two-story Venetian Renaissance Revival Building was constructed during an eclectic period of terra cotta construction. It was built as a speculative building by Frederick Bonfils, an owner of the Denver Post, which became one of the largest newspapers in the U.S. He also owned the Kansas City Post (1909-1922), which was tied to the Pendergast political machine. From 1940 to 1983, the building housed the Wonderland Arcade.

Rosemann and Associates, P.C., occupies the 1524 Grand Avenue Building (N39o5’42” W94o34’53”), which dates to 1928. The consulting architecture company notes that this was the first downtown renovation to achieve LEED certification. There is a green roof. The two-story, reinforced concrete, commercial building has a terra cotta façade. It was listed as a pristine example of a terra cotta-clad two-part commercial block building type. The building has Neoclassical design elements. During its life, the building housed vending machine, liquor store, and the Automotive Trades Association. The longest tenant was Central Card Company, 1966 to 2003.

Louis Curtis Studio Building, 1118 McGee Street (N39o6’1” W94o34’48”), dates to 1908. The three-story commercial building was built by Louis Curtiss, an early modern architect who lived in the building and was the owner. Curtis included reinforced concrete and glass curtain wall architecture. The building is vacant (2021). His best-known design is the NRHP-listed Boley Building on Walnut Street. Other buildings designed by Curtis are houses on 55th Street and Roanoke Drive in Kansas City, buildings in the Quality Hill and Westheight Manor Historic Districts, buildings in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and railroad depots across the West.