Explore Kansas City’s Iconic Art Deco Architecture With This Self-Guided Tour | KCUR 89.3

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Look around Kansas City and there’s a good chance you’ll spot an Art Deco-inspired building or piece of art, even if you don’t realize it. To learn about Art Deco is to travel back in time almost 100 years ago, when civic and economic leaders and architects made a concerted effort to make Kansas City a modern city.

Art Deco, or modern style, takes its name from Decorative Arts and emerged from the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, France. This movement spread across Europe and the United States in the 1930s. The Art Deco style represents extravagance, modernity, and the bold and rapid spirit of the early 20th century manifested in technological progress.

The Industrial Revolution introduced a shift from agriculture to manufacturing and mass production in factories. A period of austerity during World War I led to an architectural revival at the end of the war. In the mid-1920s, the highly decorative and elegant aesthetic of Art Deco emerged and encompassed architecture and visual design.

Art Deco-inspired designers and architects used a combination of man-made and machine-made materials, including chrome, stainless steel, stucco, terracotta, and opaque flat glass. The style is famous for its use of ivory, jade, limestone, and marble, arranged in simple shapes with sharp angles and lines, geometric patterns, and repeating patterns.

You can explore the intricate designs of the Art Deco style at these iconic buildings located in downtown and downtown Kansas City.

Municipal auditorium


The Municipal Auditorium opened in 1935 as a definitive statement of Kansas City’s emerging status as a modern twentieth-century city.

Municipal auditorium opened in 1935 as a definitive statement of Kansas City’s emerging status as a modern 20th century city. The massive structure replaced a large convention hall destroyed in 1900 by fire. Hoit, Price & Barnes was one of the two architectural firms that drew up the plans. The company also designed the Kansas City Power and Light building.

Constructed of steel and reinforced concrete, the auditorium presents a spartan and voluminous canvas adorned with ornamental flourishes. Stroll outside the auditorium and observe the linear geometric design. Medallions in bas-relief representing classical figures adorn the vast limestone facade. Other interior Art Deco touches include light fixtures and geometric patterns on the tiled floor, which you can see for yourself in this virtual tour of the Municipal Auditorium.

Kansas City Electric and Light Building

Roy Harryman - Flickr - KCPL Building.jpg

Roy harryman

Built in 1931 amid the Art Deco movement, the Kansas City Power and Light Building is an easily identifiable skyscraper along the city’s skyline.

Built in 1931 amid the Art Deco movement, the 36-story Kansas City Power and Light Building is an easily identifiable skyscraper along the city’s skyline. The building is now Power & Light Apartments, a luxury apartment community next to the Power and Light District.

Art Deco elements include detailed artwork etched into elevator doors, the use of cut glass, and the use of the sunburst pattern – a signature Art Deco motif. A 21-foot Art Deco lantern on the top floor is perhaps the finishing touch. Complemented by exterior lighting, the lantern serves as a beacon that glows in red and orange to create a warm, flame-like effect when lit.

The recessed steps that move away from the building’s footprint in graduated steps emphasize the verticality and geometric shape typical of Art Deco buildings. The stylized architectural details along the facade of the building also display the ornamental aspect associated with Art Deco.

Jackson County Courthouse

Jackson County Courthouse

Carlos Moreno

Completed in 1934, the Jackson County Courthouse features Art Deco design elements inside and out.

The Jackson County Courthouse is another building constructed in the early 1930s with liberal use of Art Deco and Neoclassical design elements. Completed in 1934, the 28-story building incorporated approximately 90,000 cubic feet of limestone, a material commonly used at the time.

Well displayed in the lobby, the marble used in the columns, walls, and counters was sourced mainly from quarries in Missouri. Elaborate metallic ornaments covering the windows and above the entrance to the courthouse, along with a magnificent chandelier, showcase the opulent style of Art Deco.

Town hall

Noah Jeppson - Flickr - City Hall Elevator.jpg

Noah jeppson

The sculpted brass elevator doors at City Hall illustrate the four major modern modes of transportation (rail, airplane, automobile, steamboat) available in Kansas City.

The Kansas City Wight and Wight architectural firm drew up plans for the Town Hall, a 30-story building with an observation deck completed in 1937. The firm also worked on the design of the courthouse of the Jackson County. To cut hair into quarters, the design incorporates elements of neoclassical and fine art architectural styles. The revivalist conception of Fine Arts, sometimes found in Art Deco, is a distinct but similar movement that also meant a break with the Industrial Revolution.

Similar to other downtown structures, City Hall features an exterior use of limestone sourced from Indiana. Pyrenean marble imported from southwestern France, travertine marble from Tivoli, Italy, and antique Verde marble from Vermont were all used to beautify the interior.

Other Art Deco style elements include stylized hall ceiling light fixtures, geometric tile patterns, sculpted brass elevator doors that illustrate the four major modern modes of transportation (railroad, airplane, automobile, boat steam) and custom brass door handle plates.

Exterior carvings on the facade of the building represent notable people and places of the region, such as U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, D-Missouri, Benoist Troost, Lewis and Clark, the Chouteau Trading Post, and the Santa Fe Trail .

National Bank Fidelity Building and Trust Company

Fidelity National Bank and Trust Company Building, 909 Walnut

Carlos moreno

Now known as 909 Walnut Apartments, the Fidelity National Bank & Trust Building was built on top of Art Deco in 1931.

Built in 1931, the Fidelity National Bank & Trust building footprint is within the boundaries of 9th and 10th streets, Walnut and Grand streets. The 35-story structure has undergone several ownership changes and renovations. The building was converted into apartments and is now known as 909 Walnut.

Designed with a Gothic Revival Art Deco-Gothic architectural motif, the Fidelity Building’s most distinctive feature is its double spire design. The architectural elements of Art Deco include the use of geometric shapes, general symmetry, verticality and setbacks to emphasize the great height and geometric profile of the building, as well as decorative ornamentation.

Union Carbide Building

Union Carbide Building

Michael d morse

Classic Art Deco patterns can be seen on the exterior of Union Carbide condominiums.

Now developed as Union Carbide Condominiums, the building displays rich Art Deco details, including stylized ironwork and geometric symmetry of the doors at the main entrance. On the front facade, it also features geometric light fixtures and classic Art Deco terracotta panels under the building’s name and masonry.

Southwell Building

Southwell Building Midtown


The richly detailed panels along the second floor of the Southwell building are examples of polychrome terracotta ornamentation in the Art Deco style.

You may have passed a significant but less obvious art deco exhibit millions of times at the intersection of Main Street and Westport Road. Look above the storefronts on the ground floor of the Southwell Building, built by architects McKecknie and Trask in 1929, on the east side of Main.

Midtown music fans may recall going to Harling’s Upstairs, a former classic bar and grill where Mama Ray and her backing band once hosted a weekly blues jam on Saturdays. Geometric lights along the roof line were designed to flood the sidewalk with light. The richly detailed panels along the second floor of the commercial building are examples of polychrome terracotta ornamentation in the Art Deco style. It is a discreet treasure that deserves to be slowed down to contemplate it.

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