Kansas City Architecture in the Missouri Valley Room

Seville Fountain on the Plaza
Seville Light Fountain at the Country Club Plaza, 1970

The history of architecture in Kansas City begins with a humble 1820s trading post that soon grew into a rough and ready frontier town. Following the Civil War, this town was replaced by a more modern one, and "by 1920 much of the [architectural] character of Kansas City had been determined." Two significant events contributed to making Kansas City, Missouri, a special place. "The development of an extensive park and boulevard system designed by George Kessler … and the plan of real estate developer Jesse Clyde Nichols to create a ‘high-class district on scientific lines,’ later known as the Country Club District.” These two developments provided the framework for the city’s architectural achievements of the next 66 years. (book jacket, Kansas City, Missouri: An Architectural History, 1826-1976).

Building Profiles

Kansas City has numerous architecturally significant buildings. The Missouri Valley Special Collections Digital Gallery features 26 locally written building profiles. Among them are the historic Vaughan Diamond building, the New York Life building, Coca-Cola/Western Auto, City Hall, several theaters, and others. The profiles are in pdf format.

Kansas City Architects

Kansas City’s earliest architects have endowed Kansas City with its special structures. A few are featured here, but there are many more.

  • Mary Elizabeth Colter One of the few women architects in the early twentieth century, Colter designed the Fred Harvey Restaurant and Westport Room at Union Station and designed and decorated many structures for the Fred Harvey Company throughout the southwest.
  • Louis Curtiss His 1900 design for the Folly Theater clearly has a Palladian flavor, yet Mineral Hall, built between 1903 and 1905, has an eclectic, Art Nouveau look. He broke new ground with the Boley Building at 12th and Walnut streets.
  • Mary Rockwell Hook Among her most famous creations are several homes in the Sunset Hill area adjacent to Loose Park, designs in which she employed the detached main rooms, arched windows, open terraces, balconies, and courtyards for which she was known.
  • George Kessler Kessler was the landscape architect responsible for the design and plan of the Kansas City parks and boulevard system.
  • Clarence Kivett Kivett’s firm, Kivett and Myers, designed dozens of Kansas City landmarks, including Kansas City International Airport and the Truman Sports Complex.
  • Nelle Nichols Peters In the 1920s, Peters was not only one of the most active architects in the city, but one of the few female architects in independent practice. Large apartment complexes surrounding courtyards became her specialty and trademark during this time. Her designs from this decade also include the Ambassador Hotel at 3560 Broadway and the Luzier Cosmetic Company at 3216 Gillham.
  • Edward Tanner Tanner designed most of the major buildings of the Country Club Plaza and was responsible for much of its physical appearance.
  • Henry Van Brunt The eclectic style of Van Brunt and Howe can be seen in the George Blossom residence at 1032 Pennsylvania, the Coates House Hotel at 1005 Broadway, and the August Meyer residence, now located on the campus of the Kansas City Art Institute as Vanderslice Hall.


Researching the History of Your House

One of the most frequently requested guides is how to research the history of a building, especially a house.

Architecture-Related Special Collections in the Missouri Valley Room

Some of the special collections have material related to architecture, like real estate papers, abstracts, drawings, etc.

Architecture Resources on the Internet

Internet sites with Kansas City architecture components.

Selected Bibliography of Kansas City Architecture

This annotated list of books provides a starting point for researching Kansas City architecture.