As you navigate the construction areas in downtown Kansas City and look at the gaping holes where buildings used to be, you may think that the city is undergoing radical change. Cities are constantly evolving and construction and demolition are part of the process. The streetscapes that seem so familiar now were often quite different only a few decades ago. These images from Missouri Valley Special Collections photograph collection provide a glimpse of the area’s past.
The Midland Theater and the Hotel President are two landmarks from the past that remain in the construction area. Loew’s Midland Theatre is a fine example of the magnificent movie theaters of the silent film era and was the third largest theatre in the United States when it opened in 1927.
The Hotel President, constructed in 1925-26, also displayed the opulence and luxury of the grand hotels of the 1920s.
This view, looking north from 15th & Baltimore in 1930 shows the Power & Light Building under construction. “In 1931 the new Kansas City Power & Light Co. Building dominated the landscape as Missouri's tallest building. It rose 31 stories high, the crowning 97-foot-high pillar of changing colored lights creating a jewel-like glow visible for miles around. Decades later it remains notable both for its spectacular lighting and as a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture”.
There is little that is recognizable in this view looking north from the west side of 13th & Main around 1890.
In this 1940 shot, looking north along the west side of Main between 14th and 15th, small businesses still characterized the area.
When it opened as the Mainstreet Theater in 1921, the Empire Theater was the largest and most magnificent of the downtown movie/vaudeville theaters.
At 14th and Walnut you could still get a permanent wave for $10.00 in 1930.
While by 1949, 13th and Walnut was a lively commercial center that included the University of Beauty and other small businesses on the fringes of downtown.
Looking north along Grand from just south of 13th in 1930. Shows Bryant Building under construction. Davidson’s Furniture and Interiors came to KC from Des Moines in 1917 and was a fixture at 12th & Grand and an important presence in the city until they closed their last retail store at 600 Central in 1989.
In 1878, Grand Boulevard, looking south from 13th, still resembles a small town.
The streetscape is transformed as workers lay asphalt at Grand and 13th in April, 1894.
Although streetcar tracks are visible, automobiles had already become a notable feature along Grand by 1922, hinting at the force that would transform downtowns all across the United States. The sign for Cook Paint and Varnish recalls another old KC business founded in 1913, whose descendant is Cook Composites and Polymers.
By 1954, the American Royal Parade, proceeding down Grand at about 14th shows how important automobiles had become in American life.
Interstate highways completely eliminated some blocks. These images, looking north from south of 14th & Oak in 1920...
...and from south of 15th (Truman Road), May 23, 1922, show a neighborhood which disappeared entirely as freeways intruded.
Do you have information, comments, memories about these neighborhoods? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to see more views of downtown Kansas City’s past streetscapes and buildings, you might enjoy these titles:
Kansas City Style: A Social and Cultural History of Kansas City as Seen through its Lost Architecture by Dory DeAngelo and Jane Flynn.
Kansas City: Then and Now by Monroe Dodd.
Kansas City: Then and Now 2 by Monroe Dodd.
This article was written by the Missouri Valley Special Collections Staff.