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OLD KANSAS CITY, KANSAS CITY HALL and FIRE HEADQUARTERS, 1910-11/192930/1938
805 and 815 North 6th Street
Rose and Peterson, Architects (first phase)
Charles E. Keyser, Architect (second phase)
Joseph W. Radotinsky, Architect (1938 jail addition)
Kansas City, Kansas Historic District: December 1, 1983
Register of Historic Kansas Places: November 23, 1985
National Register of Historic Places: April 25, 1986
The old Kansas City, Kansas City Hall and Fire Headquarters was the finest example of
the Renaissance Revival style to be erected in Kansas City, Kansas, as well as the largest and
most elaborate civic work to be designed by Rose and Peterson, an architectural firm whose
work dominated and shaped the development of the city from 1900 to about 1925. It also marks
the one major civic commission of Charles E. Keyser, the architect whose work replaced Rose's
in the public eye during the latter part of the 1920s. The first structure to be specifically built to
serve as the Kansas City, Kansas City Hall, its two phases of construction effectively bracket the
city's era of greatest prosperity and growth, beginning in a period of civic reform and the City
Beautiful movement and ending with the Great Depression and the eclipse of academic
eclecticism in architecture.
When the City of Wyandotte was consolidated with the smaller communities of old
Kansas City, Kansas and Armourdale in 1886 to form the present Kansas City, Kansas,
squabbling between the representatives of the three communities continued for some time. The
newly elected City Council met in the former council chambers of the City of Wyandotte. At the
second meeting, a motion was narrowly defeated to move the meeting to the City Hall of old
Kansas City, Kansas on James Street. Two weeks later a motion to move the council meeting to
the recently completed City Market Building carried by a vote of 6 to 5.
Bonds for a Wyandotte City Market had been approved in 1870, but the structure at the
southeast corner of North 6th Street and Armstrong Avenue was not completed until shortly
before consolidation and had not yet been occupied. The building was of two stories, brick atop
a high limestone base. A bracketed cornice supported a slate-covered mansard roof that was
pitched more on the angles of a hip. The 6th Street front was divided into five bays, with the
central entrance bay pulled forward. This projection had an arched window on the second floor
above the entry doors, a bullseye window at the attic level, and a peaked roof above. The peak
was balanced on either side by two dormers in the mansard which aligned with the broad piers
between the window bays below. Decoration was used sparingly, in the Eastlake Style on forms
that were essentially Italianate. A steep, narrow flight of stone steps led up to the entrance. On
either side the base was pierced with four openings closed by large doors. It is uncertain if these
were original to the building, intended for produce wagons, or were added later, but in any event
they served to house the City's fire wagons.
The market building served as the Kansas City, Kansas City Hall for the next 25 years.
On July 14, 1909, the voters approved a change in the form of city government from the
corruption-ridden mayor-council form to a five-member city commission. At the time, Kansas
City, Kansas was the largest city in the United States to adopt the commission form of city
government in the general wave of civic reform that was sweeping the country. This was
followed on November 2, 1909, by the approval of $200,000 in bonds for a new City Hall. The
bonds were issued the following February. The three lots adjoining the old City Hall on the south
and fronting on 6th and Ann were acquired from Benjamin and May R. Jacobs on August 30,
1910.
Rose and Peterson were retained as architects and their plans were accepted on May
24, 1910. The plans as adopted called for a four-story building on a raised basement extending
the full length of North 6th Street, from Armstrong to Ann. On all three street fronts, corner
pavilions were to be linked by arcaded windows extending from the second through the fourth
floors. Two principal entrances were provided for on the 6th Street front flanking the center.
Between these entrances on the ground level was to be a second, open arcade giving access to
a municipal auditorium, its openings aligning with the arcaded windows above. One account
states that the building was to be executed in granite.
Obviously the plans were too grandiose for the City's limited budget. It was therefore
decided to build the new City Hall in stages. The first phase consisted of the southern one third
of the design, up to and including the southern entrance on North 6th Street and omitting the
proposed public auditorium in the center. This staging would also allow the old City Hall to
continue in use while the new was being built. Material changes included the substitution of brick
for granite in the upper portions of the building. The structure was of reinforced concrete with
concrete-clad steel beams.
The cornerstone of the new building was laid on April 25, 1911, with appropriate
ceremonies. The courts and public offices were closed for the day. Dr. George M. Gray was
chairman of the ceremony, and Rev. Stephen Northrop, pastor of the Temple Baptist Church,
gave the invocation. Speeches were made by Mayor J. E. Porter, Mayor Llewellyn Jones of
Independence, Missouri, John G. Park, City Attorney of Kansas City, Missouri, Congressman E.
C. Little, Commissioner Henry E. Dean, and W. W. Rose, the architect of the building.
Commissioner Dean, who as Commissioner of Parks, Health and Public Property was
responsible for the construction of the building, gathered together numerous documents of
historical value which were placed in an iron box inside the cornerstone. The box contained a
copy of the incorporation papers for the Wyandott City Company, a photograph of Silas
Armstrong, president of the town company and onetime Principal Chief of the Wyandot Nation,
photographs of various public buildings in Kansas City, Kansas, and copies of newspapers,
autographs of citizens and other papers.
At the time, it was fully intended to complete the building according to the original design.
Working drawings were completed by Rose and Peterson for the second phase, the municipal
auditorium, and on March 31, 1917, the question of issuing $125,000 in bonds for this next phase
of construction was voted on and approved by an almost two to one margin. A court injunction to
halt the project was at once asked for by opponents, on the theory that the issuance of the bonds
would exceed the bonded indebtedness limit for the City. Judge Fischer refused to grant the
injunction and an appeal was taken to the State Supreme Court. That body held that the water
works bonds constituted bonded indebtedness of the City, within the meaning of the statute, and
that as the bonded indebtedness of the City already exceeded the limit, the proposed issue was
without authority.
This was the end of the dream. A municipal auditorium was eventually built, but it was
contained within the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building (1923-25), some two blocks from City
Hall. For the next 12 years city government continued to operate out of the truncated building,
with the old City Hall to the north continuing to serve as the City's Fire Department headquarters
and main fire station. Finally on April 2, 1929, two bond propositions were submitted to the voters
by the McCombs administration. One called for an issue of $70,000 for a redesigned annex to
the City Hall and the other for an issue of $280,000 for two fire stations and fire equipment. Both
propositions carried. It was then decided to build one of the fire stations in connection with the
City Hall Annex and both projects were completed at a cost of $282,633.68. The end result of
this political sleight-of-hand was the City Hall and Fire Headquarters buildings as they stand
today. (The other fire station was No. 6 at 1103 Osage Avenue, J. G. Braecklein, architect.)
On April 23, 1929, the City Commissioners took bids for the razing of the 1886 City Hall
building. This was followed on April 30 by the retention of Charles E. Keyser as architect.
Keyser had executed several of the largest commissions in the city in the late 1920s, including
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The Kansas City Kansan newspaper offices and plant and the Washington Avenue Methodist
Church. In his design for the so-called City Hall Annex he showed admirable modesty and
restraint, the addition being an indistinguishable duplication and completion of the earlier design
by Rose and Peterson.
Bids for construction were taken by the City on August 13, 1929, with the low bid of
$230,121 being submitted by C. W. VanVacter. For some reason, bids for the capital
improvement bonds to pay for the project were not received until September 24. In November,
the fire department moved to temporary quarters in the Alter and Gray Building on State Avenue
between 6th and 7th Streets, where they were faced with a leaking roof and a lack of heat. This
move cleared the last obstacle to construction, however, and the new buildings were completed
in less than eight months. The City began moving into the new offices in the Annex without
ceremony on June 21, 1930. The fire department, with more of an air of celebration, occupied
the new Headquarters building on June 25.
The City Hall and Fire Headquarters were both designed in the Renaissance Revival
style. The nineteen-year separation in the design of the two portions of the complex and the
change in architects are reflected in the stylistic interpretation, with the later Fire Headquarters
being stripped of much of the rather fussy elaboration apparent in the City Hall.
The two structures are both basically square in plan, and together form a rectangle
occupying the west end of the block and facing onto North 6th Street. The City Hall forms the
southern half of this rectangle, the Fire Headquarters the northern. At the north end the
equipment doors face onto Armstrong Avenue, and the building is held back from the street a
sufficient distance to allow fire trucks to be parked in the open for washing. The main entries for
each half of the complex are centered in their respective facades and are addressed separately.
The two portions of the complex are unified in style and material, and are tied together by
a continuous base line and a continuous second floor sill line. However, neither the unifying
elements nor the division into two equal parts accurately reflects the sequence of construction.
The first phase consisted of the south half of City Hall up to and including the entry, and was
completed in 1911. The second phase, completed in 1930, consisted of the north half of City Hall,
called the "City Hall Annex" despite being indistinguishable from its predecessor, and the Fire
Headquarters. Separating the various parts is further complicated by the fact that the heating
plant for the entire complex was located in the basement of the Annex.
The City Hall portion of the complex is four stories in height atop a raised base, with a
fifth floor penthouse jail (a later addition) which is not generally visible from the street. The base
is pierced by windows illuminating the basement floor. As the site slopes to the south and west,
this base is highest, almost a full story, at the southwest corner. The base is Carthage stone, the
first floor of gray Bedford stone, the latter being rusticated with horizontal striations in a manner
appropriate to the style. Above a continuous sill or intermediary cornice line which occurs at the
second floor sill line, the upper portions of the building are clad in a tan brick with cream colored
terra-cotta trim. The second and third floors are treated as a unity, with brick panels edged with
flat pilasters rising to another continuous sill line at the fourth floor. Above this line the brick
facade has horizontal striations echoing the first floor's rustication. This is topped by a strongly
projecting cornice and a continuous brick parapet wall with a heavy cap. The building is thus
divided into five horizontal bands that tend to minimize the structure's height. This horizontality is
perhaps not consistent with the Renaissance Revival style but is certainly expressive of the
nature of the building's function as a massive office block.
On the main, or North 6th Street, facade the building is divided into seven bays, six
containing paired double-hung windows on each floor including the basement. The windows on
the first and second floors are topped by fixed transoms expressive of the greater height of these
two levels. The central or entry bay is pulled forward, with the basement and first floor windows
being replaced by a set of steps leading up and into a pair of doors. These doors occur at a level
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intermediary between the sidewalk and the first floor, and are topped with a large fixed transom.
A carved stone cartouche replaces the keystone over this opening. Above this, each opening
contains a trio rather than a pair of windows. Between the second and third floor windows, a
rectangular terra-cotta panel contains raised letters spelling out "CITY HALL." At this same level,
large terra-cotta pilasters mark both the outer edge of the projecting bay and the outer corners of
the building.
The treatment of the south, Ann Avenue, facade of the City Hall is somewhat different.
Like the main facade this elevation is divided into seven bays, and the two end bays are identical
to those on the front. The five intermediate bays, however, are set back slightly from the property
edge causing the two end bays to read as corner pavilions. Moreover, the intermediate cornice
that forms the fourth floor sill line is omitted in these five bays and instead they are arcaded on
the fourth floor level, as was proposed in the original design. In the present scheme of the
building this alternate treatment of the facade marks the two-story interior space of the former
Commissioners' Public Meeting Room. The rear of City Hall, facing an alley on the east, did not
receive any decorative or architectonic treatment. On the north, however, where the third and
fourth floors extend above the Fire Headquarters portion of the complex and are visible from the
street, the facade treatment wraps around the corner to the depth of one bay, creating the
impression of a corner pavilion similar to that on the south end.
The interior layout of the City Hall is basically the same for each floor. Offices are
arranged along the south and west sides of the building, taking advantage of natural light.
Interior windows with frosted glass occur in various locations to help with light diffusion. At the
interior angle of the office "L," a reinforced concrete vault core extends through all floors. This
vault core has two levels on both the first and second floors for a total of seven levels. At the
center of each floor is a square lobby. In the original plans, square openings were proposed in
the center of the third and fourth floor lobbies with a skylight above creating a three-story atrium,
but it is now uncertain if this was ever carried out. The wall separating the lobby from the offices
on the south is structural. It is the thickness of an open door and contains various vent stacks.
To the east of the lobby area is the service core containing two elevators, stairs and restrooms.
As with the vaults, mezzanine levels occur here on the first and second floors. To the north of
the lobby area is the one story police garage with access to the alley at the building's rear, part of
the 1929 Annex.
The basement floor originally contained a large Municipal Court room on the south,
flanked by various police facilities including the jail. This jail was later relocated to the fifth floor
penthouse noted above. The first floor contained the City Clerk and Treasurer's offices, those
most frequented by the public. The second floor originally contained the City Engineer, Building
Inspector, and similar offices, but was later taken over by the Police Department. The third floor
contained the Commissioners' Public Meeting Room on the south side, a two-story space with a
balcony on the east. Windows opened into this space from the fourth floor lobby. The Mayor's
office and Commission offices were to the west of the Meeting Room, the City Attorney's office to
the east. The fourth floor contained more Commission offices, as the City in 1911 had a fivemember city commission.
Interior finishes throughout are plastered walls with stained oak trim and tiled floors.
Classically detailed ornamental brackets, beams and moldings occur in the lobby areas and in
the Meeting Room. Decorative wall stenciling in green, gold and rose can still be seen in one
room of the City Attorney's office where it was covered over for years by bookcases. Such
stenciling, in keeping with Rose's Arts and Crafts predilections, presumably occurred elsewhere
but was long ago painted over.
The Fire Headquarters building is two stories in height, again with a high base pierced by
windows illuminating the basement. (One of those basement offices for many years housed the
Kansas Film Censor Board.) With an exception to be noted later, the facing of the building is
entirely of gray Bedford stone, matching the lower portions of the City Hall in color and finish.
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The profiles of the top of the base and of the continuous second floor sill line differ from those of
City Hall but nevertheless align with them. The facing of the first floor is not rusticated, nor is the
cornice as emphatic as that of City Hall. A false balustrade is carved into areas of the parapet
wall, aligning with the windows below. These windows divide the facade into five bays along the
North 6th Street front, the two end bays being in the same plane as the City Hall facade and the
center portion being slightly set back, echoing the Ann Avenue facade of City Hall.
The large first floor window openings correspond to those on City Hall in size and
placement, but the second floor windows are smaller than their City Hall counterparts and are
divided by stone piers undifferentiated from the wall plane. The entry door in the center bay is at
ground level, with internal stairs. Its carved enframement is rectangular, topped by a flat cornice
supported by a pair of Corinthian brackets. Above this cornice is one of the few pieces of
sculptural decoration on the building, a bas relief representation of the front end of a 1920s' fire
truck flanked by scrolls made up of fire hoses terminating in flanking fire plugs. Despite this bit of
elaboration the overall effect is clean and subdued, as if to indicate that the Fire Headquarters is
secondary and subordinate to City Hall.
The north, Armstrong Avenue, facade of the Fire Headquarters continues the
development of the west facade, but in a single plane. This facade is dominated by the six great
doors of the main fire station. Individual bronze letters spelling out "FIRE HEADQUARTERS" are
placed above these doors. The doors are flanked on the west by a small pedestrian entrance,
and on the east by a five-story tower. The tower is square in plan and projects forward of this
facade, abutting it rather than engaged. A pedestrian door is centered in the west facade of the
tower, with windows similarly centered on the other first floor facades and on each floor above.
The third and fourth floors of the tower are faced in brick matching that of City Hall, while the fifth
floor is again faced in stone without a cornice, roof, or strongly defined parapet. From the
practical standpoint, the tower originally served for hose drying and for training exercises for the
firemen. Visually, the tower functions as a campanile, terminating the composition when viewed
at an angle from North 6th Street and with its materials further emphasizing the unity of the two
buildings.
The first floor of the Fire Headquarters is taken up largely with the great equipment room.
On the west side, south of the entry, was a large ready room with a fireplace against the south
wall next to the City Hall. The second floor is devoted to the men's quarters and Fire Department
offices. As noted above, additional offices occupy the south portion of the basement next to the
police garage, but the area under the equipment room was left unexcavated.
For the next thirty years or more following completion of the Annex and Fire
Headquarters, Kansas City, Kansas stagnated. The Great Depression, an entrenched political
machine, and a general air of insularity brought an end to what in retrospect proved to be the
city's greatest period of prosperity, from the change of government in 1910 to the completion of
the City Hall Annex and Fire Headquarters in 1930. With the exception of the Fairfax Industrial
District, not a single annexation was undertaken by the City between 1925 and 1965 despite
continued suburban development, and this was but one symptom of the general malaise.
As might be expected in such a "stand pat" environment, changes to the complex over
the years were minimal. The two-story penthouse jail, visible only from a distance, was designed
by Joseph W. Radotinsky and added in 1938. It was presumably at this time that the sky-lit
atrium was lost (if indeed it ever existed). It was also in 1938 that an elaborate WPA project for a
series of murals on the west and north walls of the Commissioners’ Meeting Room was
proposed. The work was designed by a Federal Arts Project artist named James B. Gantt, very
much in the style of Thomas Hart Benton, and the artist’s cartoons for the panels were published
in the Kansas City Star. The proposal called for the City to either supply the artist’s materials or
pay an applicant’s fee not to exceed $500. Unfortunately, the work was never carried out. (The
pro-labor theme of much of the proposal may not have set too well with the City’s Republican
commissioners.)
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The most noticeable exterior change was the painting of the terra-cotta trim of the City
Hall a flat white. This was done in the early 1970s at the instigation of the then Commissioner of
Finance, shortly before the building was abandoned by the City. A more recent change was the
replacement of the equipment doors on the main fire station. The new doors are entirely of glass
with thin metal muntins, an effect which seems surprisingly compatible with the restrained
classicism of the building.
Finally, in the mid 1960s, the City began to wake up. The infusion of dollars from a
variety of federal programs sparked considerable activity, with a corresponding increase in the
number of City staff. By the end of the 1960s the old City Hall was increasingly perceived as
being inadequate to the City's needs, and City staff was installed in a variety of rented quarters.
In 1971-73, a new Municipal Office Building was constructed at 7th and Ann and the old
City Hall abandoned. At this point, the iron box was removed from the cornerstone and its
contents eventually turned over to the Wyandotte County Historical Society & Museum. Although
the adjoining Fire Headquarters continues in use, the City Hall has remained vacant for three
decades. Various proposals for its reuse have been made from time to time, but it was not until
the sale of the building to developer Robert Cotitta in 1994 that concrete action to redevelop the
property as leasible office space began, with restoration of the facade and lobby area and
extensive renovation of the interiors. Unfortunately, the Cotitta project stalled after exterior
restoration and window replacement had been largely completed and much of the interior gutted.
Roof repair was carried out at City expense, but the work was apparently not done properly as
problems with leaks have continued. (A portion of the penthouse jail roof was blown off in a
storm, and as of December 2000 remains unrepaired.) Although an application for Federal
investment tax credits was nearing approval, all work ceased when additional financial help from
the City was denied, and the property eventually returned to City ownership following Mr. Cotitta’s
declaration of bankruptcy. There was a subsequent proposal by a large legal firm to acquire the
building for its offices, but like the Cotitta project that came to naught when it was disclosed that a
substantial financial contribution by the City was expected.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY
Article, The Kansas City Kansan, June 21, 1930.
----------, The Kansas City Kansan, June 24, 1930.
----------, The Kansas City Kansan, June 25, 1930.
----------, The Kansas City Kansan, June 1, 1937.
----------, The Kansas City Star, June 5, 1938.
----------, The Kansas City Star, July 2, 1961.
Baldwin, Sara Mullin (editor). Who's Who in Kansas City. Hebron, Nebraska: Robert M. Baldwin
Company, 1930.
Blueprints and drawings:
1.
Rose and Peterson, Architects, undated (c. 1917) blueprints of working drawing floor
plans of original proposal, showing City Hall (first phase) substantially as built and the
Municipal Auditorium (second phase, unbuilt).
2.
Rose and Peterson, Architects, undated (c. 1917) General Specifications for City Hall
(second phase, unbuilt).
3.
Charles E. Keyser, Architect, undated (c. 1929) blueprints of plumbing and heating plans
for City Hall Annex and Fire Headquarters.
4.
Reproducible photocopy of 6th Street and Armstrong Avenue 1/8 scale elevations of City
Hall and Fire Headquarters, unlabeled and undated (Charles E. Keyser, Architect, 1929).
Original from which this copy was made has not been located.
City Directories for Kansas City, Kansas and/or Kansas City, Missouri, 1887-88 et seq. (multiple
entries).
Cowick, Kate L. The Story of Kansas City. Kansas City: The Kansas City Kansan, 1924.
Harrington, Grant W. Historic Spots or Mile-Stones in the progress of Wyandotte County,
Kansas. Merriam, Kansas: The Mission Press, 1935.
Hopkins, G. M. A Complete Set of Surveys and Plats of Properties in Wyandotte County, and
Kansas City, Kansas. Philadelphia: G. M. Hopkins, C.E., 1887.
Kansas City, Kansas Board of City Commissioners Minutes, Journal A - No. 15, December 31,
1928 - December 31, 1929, pages 186, 203, 390, 484.
Millstein, Cydney, Linda F. Becker and Larry K. Hancks. Downtown Kansas City, Kansas:
Certified Local Government Program Historic Inventory – Phase 5 Survey. Kansas City: Kansas
City, Kansas Planning and Zoning Division, 1993. Includes both the survey report and a Kansas
Historic Resources Inventory survey form for each property within the survey area.
----------. Rose and Peterson, Architects: Certified Local Government Program Historic Inventory
- Phase 4 Survey. Kansas City: Kansas City, Kansas Planning and Zoning Division, 1994
(Second Edition, Revised).
8
Morgan, Perl W. History of Wyandotte County, Kansas and Its People. 2 vols. Chicago: The
Lewis Publishing Company, 1911.
Photos:
1.
Two undated photos showing west elevation of 1886 City Hall (Fire Headquarters 19111929).
2.
Photo of line rendering of Rose and Peterson design for City Hall, taken from the Annual
Souvenir Program, Merchants and Manufacturers Picnic, dated September, 1910.
3.
Undated photo (c. 1920) showing west elevation of City Hall (first phase).
Sanborn Map Company, The. Insurance Maps of Kansas City, Kansas. New York: Sanborn
Map Company, 1887-88. (Editions of 1907-08 and 1931 were also used).
Western Contractor/Mid-West Contractor, Vol. 1, No. 1, January 6, 1903 et seq. (multiple
entries).
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