Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Old Postcard Wednesday—Civic Center, Kansas City, Missouri

First, I have been unable to determine the name of the building in the center, the one that appears to have a spire. If anyone can identify it, please leave a comment. Many buildings in what was known as the Civic Center at the time of this old postcard were representative of the Pendergast era.
At the start of the 20th century, political machines attempted to gain clout in the city, with the one led by Tom Pendergast emerging as the dominant machine by 1925. Several important buildings and structures were built during this time, including the Kansas City City Hall and the Jackson County Courthouse—both added new skyscrapers to the city's growing skyline. The machine fell in 1939 when Pendergast, riddled with health problems, pleaded guilty to tax evasion. [Wikipedia]

The building on the left in this old postcard is the City Hall that was built following the demolition of the 2nd City Hall that was located in a different spot (see photo of the gorgeous old building here). Some particulars of this City Hall, via Wikipedia:
The City Hall of Kansas City, Missouri, is the official seat of government for the city of Kansas City, Missouri. It is a 29-story skyscraper located in downtown Kansas City, and has an observation deck on the top of it. It is the fourth tallest city hall in the world, and the seventh tallest building in Kansas City.

The City Hall was built in 1937, under the influence of Tom Pendergast (who owned a concrete company that built the city hall), the "political boss" of Kansas City at the time. It was built to "counter" the effects of the great depression on Kansas City, and was part of a series of other government buildings, which include the Jackson County Courthouse. Both buildings were designed by Wight and Wight.

The mayor's office is on the 29th floor and the City Council chamber is on the 26th floor. The City Hall is considered a "Beaux-Arts" style building, but has Art Deco elements on the interior. The interior of the city hall is full of Italian gray, red, white, and green marble which lines the halls and the floors of the building. It was dedicated on October 25th, 1937 and required 20,000 cubic feet (570 m3) of concrete, 7,800 tons of stone, 6,800 tons of steel and, as one newspaper put it, "a lake of paint" to build. One Kansas City Place, the tallest building in Kansas City and the state of Missouri was built based as a tribute to the architectural style of City Hall.

Jackson County Courthouse, the building on the right in this postcard, is located at 415 E. 12th Street in Downtown Kansas City. History follows:
It was built in 1934, designed by Wight and Wight in an Art Deco style. Harry S. Truman who was presiding judge of the Jackson County Court at the time had wanted it designed similar to the Caddo Parish, Louisiana courthouse in Shreveport, Louisiana. Edward F. Neild who designed the Shreveport courthouse was hired as consulting architect-engineer. Neild would later die while designing the Truman Library.

It replaced the previous Kansas City courthouse annex at 5th and Oak, which was a fire hazard and needed to be replaced. It was approved in a 1931 $4 million bond issue (which also included construction of the neighboring Kansas City City Hall. It was dedicated in December 1934. Truman had an office in the new courthouse building during most of his first term as U.S. Senator from 1935 to 1939.

In 1922, Harry S. Truman won election as county judge for eastern Jackson County as a candidate of the Tom Pendergast faction of the Democratic Party. He failed to be re-elected in 1924, but, then won election as presiding judge in 1926. Truman served in this position in effect as county commissioner for eight years. He divided his time between the two Jackson County courthouses: the courthouse in Independence in Independence and this one in Kansas City.

The courthouse contains an elaborate painted ceiling on the 2nd floor featuring portraits of county employees. The mural was completed by artist Chris Doyle in 2008. [Wikipedia]

I found this marvelous photo (below) at Kansas City with the Russian Accent, filed under "Old Photos: Even More of 1938 Kansas City." The photo was identified at the source in comments by one brojangles. I cannot confirm the validity of his comments, but they make a great story!

© Time Inc. William Vandivert

The old guy looking across downtown is, I think, Henry McElroy. He was the first City Manager of KCMO after the city charter was changed. He got the job as a crony of Tom Pendergast. My guess is that the picture was taken from atop City Hall, which, along with the Jackson County Courthouse and Municipal Auditorium (visible in the center of the photo, just to the right of the P&L Building) was built during his administration. He was later indicted for fraud and embezzlement, but got sick and died before the case went to trial.

Did you notice in the lower left of the postcard that the photo was "Courtesy of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce"? This is a stretch, having nothing at all to do with KCMO, but that notation reminded me of an interview that ran locally following election day. As you may be aware, Oregon (where I live) voted against legalizing marijuana, but our neighboring state of Washington and the State of Colorado both voted for legalizing it in small quantities. I read that the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce was against the initiative (see article at — but not so in the case of the Skamania County Chamber of Commerce in Washington, that sees a potential for tourism. The times are changing....




dmarks said...

Excellent post. The garish colors of this linen-era card do the buildings well.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

sings: we got married in a fever/hotter than a pepper sprout/ we've been talkin' 'bout Jackson/ever since the fire went out...

What strikes me about this picture is that everything is in 3-D apart from your building with the spire which could be entirely flat

I love the photo - i hope that man's hat didn't get blown away


Yes, times are changing -- lots of pent up frustration with folks that wanted us to return to ancient ways. I give a shout out to all the women that stood in long lines and voted no to a return of the dark ages.
-- barbara

Rob-bear said...

Neat little bit of history, Lydia, displayed in those buildings. And by the voters in Washington. One never quite knows what to expect.

Lydia said...

dmarks~ I am always honored by a visit from you; thanks!

Pixies~ It is a great old pic. Reminded me of all the wonderful photography there used to be in Life Magazing...

Folkways~ Here, here! I agree. :)

Rob-bear~ My grandparents began their marriage there in KCMO and are buried there. I have not been in KC since I was a kid and would like to return for a visit.

James Gorham said...

Building in the middle is the KCMO Police Headquarters.



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