In the present day, Kansas City  is celebrated for an architecturally diverse landscape that embraces several styles, most notably art deco. Notable structures also remain from the city’s early history, as the city’s downtown slowly rose out of the dirt in the 19th century. According to the American Institute of Architects Guide to Kansas City Architecture and Public Art, “During the late 1860s, [downtown] began to interest merchants and residents when Kersey Coates, a real estate speculator, began investing in and developing the land around what is now 10th Street. South of the original center of commerce, the Riverfront District, the Coates Addition was platted. The new development attracted wealthy families to build mansions on the bluffs overlooking the river.”
Construction continued at a heightened pace throughout the late 1800s as builders sought to keep the pace of demand set by incoming employees and business owners eager to cash in on Kansas City’s growing reputation as an agricultural, railroad, and industrial force. The AIA guide continues, “In the 1880s, Kansas City’s population more than doubled and the city stretched to 13 square miles. Imposing structures such as the New England Building and the New York Life Building, the city’s first high-rise, were designed by prestigious architectural firms and constructed during this time.” Celebrated early architects included Mary Elizabeth Colter, Louis Curtiss, Mary Rockwell Hook, George Kessler, Clarence Kivett, Nelle Nichols Peters, Edward Tanner, and Henry Van Brunt.
Prominent examples of historic architecture in downtown Kansas City  include Delaware Street from 2nd to 5th Streets, defined by the AIA guide as “one of the few remaining commercial streetscapes from the late 19th century.” Significant features include Romanesque arches, intricate cornice brickwork, cast-iron columns, and stained glass.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (411 W. 10th St.) was built in 1882. During a 1960 renovation, 23-karat gold leaf was applied to the original copper dome and spire to prevent deterioration. The result is an eye-catching exterior that’s become a luminescent part of Kansas City’s skyline.
The historic Savoy Hotel  (219 W. 9th St.) retains several of its original features including imported marble and tile, claw-footed tubs, brass fixtures, stained-glass windows, and a magnificent art nouveau skylight in the hotel’s lobby.
The New York Life Building is a 10-story Renaissance Revival building that stands at 20 West 9th Street. Look for terra-cotta ornamentation and brickwork, as well as an exterior eagle sculpture created by Louis Saint-Gaudens. Interior tile work is said to have been completed by Russian immigrants.
Formerly a fire station, the Central Exchange (1020 Central St.) is described by the AIA as “a Mannerist interpretation of a classical facade, an unusual design for a fire station.”
A few blocks away, the towering Kansas City Power and Light Company Building (1330 Baltimore St.) was one of the first Kansas City high-rises to embody architectural modernism. Art deco building features include dramatic stepbacks and stylized geometric surface description, and this building, along with Municipal Auditorium and Jackson County Courthouse, are said by many architectural experts to be three of the nation’s art deco treasures. Municipal Auditorium was built during the Depression to the tune of $6.5 million, part of the city’s Ten Year Plan.
Although singular examples of superior architecture still define Kansas City  as an architectural haven, researchers from the Kansas City Public Library identify two events in the city’s early history as having such a far-reaching impact that they continue to influence the city’s present-day construction: “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.”