Kansas City has no shortage of buildings and artwork inspired by Art Deco style, as civic leaders and architects in the 1920s and 1930s were working to establish KC as a major metropolitan city. Stylistically, Art Deco has a presence that is forward-thinking, bold + extravagant. It has the fast-paced spirit of the early 20th century that continues to embody the nature of KC.
Art Dec·o /ˌärt ˈdekō/ - noun:
During the Industrial Revolution, the shift from heavy agriculture to mass factory production caused an increase in architectural importance, especially as World War I was ending. Enter the mid-1920s — enter Art Deco.
Art Deco held an admiration for the modernity of the machine and the inherent design qualities of machine-made objects. Think: chrome, stainless steel, stucco, terracotta, and opaque plate glass. The style is known for its use of materials like ivory, jade, limestone and marble, arranged into simple shapes with sharp angles and lines, geometric patterns and repetitive designs.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum current feature exhibit “American Art Deco: Designing for the People, 1918-1939” runs now through Jan., 8, 2023. Tickets can be purchased here.
This exhibit shows the way Americans (and Kansas Citians) embraced a freer, more open society. It reconsiders a complex and tense era in our nation’s history through a collection of Art Deco objects. The exhibit features everything from glassware to gowns and even automobiles from the Art Deco era — many of which came to life right here in KC.
Art Deco in KC
The Municipal Music Hall opened in 1936, with a large proscenium theater showing off a streamlined Art Deco interior — seating an audience of 2,363. The hall hosts touring Broadway shows, visiting symphony orchestras + opera and ballet companies. Fun fact: the hall is home of the 1927 Robert-Morton Theatre Pipe Organ, originally located in the Midland Theatre.
Kansas City Power and Light Building
The Power and Light Building — one we all know and love — is an Art Deco legend. The landmark skyscraper is located in Downtown KC. Built in 1931, its initial purpose was to promote new jobs in the downtown area. The building is crowned by an intricate Art Deco lantern, featuring prismatic glass panels that shine glowing lights at sunset.
Built in 1933 and designed by Wight and Wight — located at 415 E. 12th St. — this limestone courthouse embraced the hopeful tone of KC during the building boom. Featured characteristics of the building include detailed paneling, rich ornament, and bronze + white metal plaques.
City Hall is currently one of the tallest city halls in the US. The interior of the building is where the Art Deco style really shines – with marble stairways, intricate light fixtures, and bronze features nodding to KC’s history. Our favorite part? The brass elevator doors, sculpted to depict the four major modes of transportation that serve the city.
The Bryant Building was designed by a firm based in Chicago — Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. Fun fact: the building design is an adaptation of Eliel Saarinen’s second-place design in the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower design competition. With the brass revolving doors, elaborate chandeliers + intricately designed elevator doors (do you see a theme?), this building embodies Art Deco.
Jenkins Music Company Building
Designed by the local architectural firm Smith, Rea & Lovitt, this building has Art Deco decorative elements that earn a spot on our list. The building was intended to serve as an office space for the instrument and publishing firm, Jenkins Music Company. The west-facing exterior of the building is the most ornate, featuring eight-story step backs that create an eye-catching vertical effect.
Drum roll, please. The Drum Room is a cocktail lounge located inside The Hotel President. The hotel itself was built in the 1920s and is not Art Deco, but The Drum Room was added in the early 1940s with late, streamlined Art Deco design details throughout. The lounge hosted music greats like Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey, making it a well-known music destination in downtown KC.