One of the former apartment hotels on Armour Boulevard, the Newbern, celebrated its grand reopening last week. The history of the Newbern tells a tale of the glory days of Armour Boulevard, its decline and its new role as Midtown’s major apartment corridor.
MAC Properties, a developer which has renovated several apartments on Armour, spent more than a year renovating the Newbern and is now renting studio, one and two-bedroom apartments in the building.
As part of our Uncovering History Project, the Midtown KC Post is taking a look at the 1940 tax assessment photos of each block in Midtown. But the Newbern is one building with some much history it deserves its own story, so we’ll put off discussing the rest of the block until a later date.
The Newbern was built in 1921, during the period when Armour Boulevard was making the transition from a posh residential district to a street of luxury apartment hotels. It was actually two nine-story towers built by C.O. Jones, a Kansas City developer also responsible for the Bainbridge, the Walnuts and other Kansas City apartments. Architects Brostrom & Drotts wanted the buildings to be modern, rather than following a classical style.
Originally, however, the apartment building was called the Peacock Hotel, with furnishings that celebrated the colorful bird. In ad paid advertisement in the Kansas City Star in 1922, the Peacock sang its own praises:
A favorite lunching and dining place for motorists who go up and down Armour boulevard is the beautiful tea room of the Peacock Hotel, for the Peacock is centrally located in one of the city’s most desirable residential neighborhoods.
The gorgeous appointments carry out the hotel crest. The rich peacock blue velvet curtains and tapestried overdrapes in peacock design, the exquisite china bearing the crest, the silver hollow ware richly embossed with peacocks, the softly shaded lights all go to make up an atmosphere of elegance and luxury that cannot be excelled. The best and happiest part of all this is the prices, for this service, are very reasonable and the dining room is open to the public as well as to resident guests.
By 1925, when Beine Hopkins bought the apartment hotel for $1.6 million, the peacock image had become controversial. According to the hotel’s National Historic Register nomination. “The terra cotta peacocks, which were referred to as “unfortunate 6-foot birds” in a news article of 1925, were said to have offended some hotel guests to the point of turning them away.” Whether it was that or for another reason, Hopkins changed the name to the Newbern and removed the peacock image.
Hundreds of single people, couples and families called the Newbern home over the decades. They were not the elite of Kansas City who lived in some of the other hotels and mansions on Armour, but middle-class families.1930 census records offer a glimpse:
- Many of the residents were the families of salesmen who worked for a variety of businesses including a brick manufacturer, a printer, an oil company, a security company, a flour company and a millinery.
- Several physicians in general practice and lawyers made their homes at the Newbern.
- George Fowler, a Methodist minister, and his wife also had rooms.
- Several people who worked in the lumber industry were residents.
- Lillian Weyl, a public school art teacher, also lived at the Newbern.
A decade later, the 1940 census shows little change in the types of residents who called the Newbern home. Most of the apartments were occupied by couples or single residents including:
- Several public school teachers and a public librarian.
- Several families whose wage earners worked in the railroad industry.
- Two airline pilots.
- A special agent of the FBI.
- A cigar salesman.
Do you have memories or more details about this area of Midtown? Please share them with our readers.
Would you like us to focus on your block next week? Send us an email.
Our book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now. Let us know if you want us to come to your neighborhood association or organization’s meeting to share what we’ve learned about Midtown neighborhood history and tell your members how they can help preserve Midtown history. If you’d like to order the book, email Mary Jo Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org.