City Hall, located at 414 E. 12th St. in downtown Kansas City, Mo., was completed in 1937 at a cost of $5 million. It is the tallest and most obvious of three buildings in a construction program passed in 1931 by Kansas City voters. It was part of a "Ten-Year Plan" bond program offered to the public as a vision of stability, progress and faith in the future to counter the effects of the Depression. It also was tangible proof of the political effectiveness of Kansas City's Democratic machine, led by concrete company owner Tom "Boss" Pendergast.
Comprised of 29 stories plus a 30th-story observation deck, City Hall is the sixth tallest building in the city. It measures 443 feet from the sidewalk at the north door to the top of the building. Since it's on a hill, it dominates the downtown skyline. When it was first built, it was the tallest building in the state. It remains one of the tallest city halls in the country, housing about 1,500 city government employees.
The building, which required 22 months to construct, is considered to have a neo-classic or beaux arts architecture, but is most notable for its art deco details and ornamentation. This is evident in a myriad of interior details, including sculpted brass elevator doors depicting the four major modes of transportation (planes, boats, cars and trains) that serve Kansas City; elaborate light fixtures in the lobby and elsewhere; and even custom brass doorknob plates. Outside, at the top floor of the six-story base, windows are replaced with a frieze of relief sculptures depicting the early settlement and growth of the Kansas City area.
City Hall also makes extensive use of imported Italian gray, red and white marble to line the hallways, and oak veneer paneling in the 26th-floor Council Chamber. The oak came from one giant tree grown in New York State. When City Hall was being built, there were no paneling presses big enough to make the veneer. So, the long strips of oak had to be worked and pressed by hand.
Besides its decor, the building is an engineering masterpiece. It has a steel frame encased in concrete and required 20,000 cubic feet of concrete, 7,800 tons of stone, 6,800 tons of steel and, as one newspaper put it, "a lake of paint." On a hot summer afternoon, the building is almost 3.25 inches taller than on a below-freezing winter day. But the building is designed so that this movement of the building's tremendous weight of 50,000 tons causes no harm. An elastic compound was used instead of cement mortar between the joints of one row of stone at every floor to act as an expansion joint.
The building was dedicated Oct. 25, 1937.