City Hall gets a 75th birthday party

Former mayors including Richard Berkley and Kay Barnes, former and current council members, city staff and others celebrated the 75th anniversary of the city hall building yesterday. A giant birthday cake in the shape of the building was part of the festivities.

A guitarist with the Count Basie Orchestra serenaded her, mayors past and present praised her and hundreds attended her party.

City Hall of Kansas City turned 75 in style.

Will Matthews, guitarist for the Count Basie Orchestra, serenaded City Hall at her 75th birthday party yesterday.

The neo-classic beauty enhanced with art deco work and Italian marble survived calls to replace her and officials say she’s good for another 75 years.

But like Joan Rivers, the aging star has had much maintenance and touch up.

It took a decade of effort to pay to get air conditioning put in. When computers first arrived, there was only one on each floor. The manually operated elevators eventually left but their brass doors with insets of trains, cars, boats and airplanes still drip elegance.

Her career started in 1937, designed by Wight and Wight architects of Kansas City, the brothers who also designed two Midtown classics – the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kansas City Life Insurance building.

The $6 million city hall was part of a 10-year plan with a $50 million bond issue that funded many public buildings and the concrete lining of Brush Creek.

Political boss Tom Pendergast was among those behind the plan and also owner of at least one concrete company. The building contains 20,000 cubic feet of concrete, 6,800 tons of steel and 7,800 tons of stone.

Elevator doors celebrate the importance of different forms of transportation.

With 29 stories plus a 30th story observation deck, it was the tallest building in the state when built and still is among the tallest in the city. It was also among the first city halls built as a combination of offices and a skyscraper.

At the Thursday party, Mayor Sly James stood by a cake shaped like city hall and praised her lines, her history, her future and the city employees who work there.

City Manager Troy Schulte, former Mayor Richard Berkley, Mayor Sly James, and former Mayor Kay Barnes at the city hall birthday party.

“The spirit that built this building still lives in Kansas City and we see it every day,” he said. “If nothing else this building is a tribute to the people who worked in it for 75 years.”

She is the third city hall of Kansas City and there was talk decades ago of discarding her in favor of a new and perky fourth model.  Instead, said City Architect Eric Bosch, the city kept spending money on improvements.

That continues, a city press release noted. Renovations this year reduced her energy consumption by 14 percent, about $135,600 a year. She got an ENERGY STAR certification this year for meeting strict energy efficiency standards.

Bosch called her “the citizens palace on the hill,” and told the birthday crowd, “Let’s all join together and continue to maintain our palace on the hill.”

She seems likely to outlast even Joan Rivers.

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