Search KC History Guy--Darrell L James

Blog Archive

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fidelity Tower

Fidelity Tower, as it is commonly known, is a 35-story structure, built by the Fidelity National Bank & Trust Company in 1930-1931. Some sources report it as having 32 or 36 stories.

Its address was 911 Walnut, but in the aftermath of the Sept. 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, it's address has officially been changed to 909 Walnut. The same is true for Commerce Tower at 911 Main, now 909 Main.

Personally, I find this a little extreme. It's serious business, changing the address of a 70+ year-old building, telling all your office tower tenants that their printed materials are now out of date, and must be replaced. It's like letting the terrorists win.

But, in fairness, I did not lose anyone in that event, so I could not know the full range of human feeling associated with "911."

The building's twin observation towers, or turrets, at top, were designed to pay homage to the building which preceded it, on the same spot. That earlier building had also featured two towers, one featuring a clock.
The earlier building was the 1884 Federal Building, which was acquired by Fidelity in 1902 or 1904, utilized for about 25 years, and ultimately replaced by the tower.

They could not have known the depth or duration of the Great Depression at the time construction began. Sadly, the banking firm which built the tower did not survive the depression, and the tower was liquidated in the mid to late thirties.

Later, in the immediate post-WWII years, under Pres. Truman, it began its turn as a Federal Office Building, from 1946 to 1995. See the irony? Fed moves out of old structure, bank buys old structure, bank expands and builds new structure, bank fails, Fed moves into new structure.
The 1966 construction of the Richard Bolling Federal building falls right in the middle of the span when Fidelity Tower was used for federal offices, yet they used space in the Fidelity building till 1995. I am still researching this.
I'm guessing that perhaps the government still needed space in the Fidelity building, because the Bolling Federal building was already at capacity when it opened. (Hey, it happens. Like the Olathe jail, but that's another story.)

It is reported that the bank's fancy fixtures, such as check-writing tables, etc. were moved to the Main Post Office, on Pershing Road, where I can personally recall seeing them, but can't tell you where they are now, since the IRS has remodeled the Main Post Office.

Architecturally speaking, the tower seems to have Multiple Personality Disorder.

According to the book "Kansas City, Missouri--An Architectural History, 1826-1990" by George Ehrlich, the tower's base portrays the stability which a bank would desire, but the soaring and slightly tapered tower reflects the fancies of the architectural firm. (Hoit, Price, & Barnes, the same which designed the KCP&L tower)

Author Erlich believes the KCP&L tower to be the more integrated of the two, as to the use of art deco elements. Ehrlich suspects the "restraining hand of the customer," (a bank remember) as a factor in the Fidelity structure's dual personality. It definitely qualifies as art deco in the tower, less so in the stable, limestone style of the first few floors.

The dichotomy would have been even more apparent before subsequent towers somewhat obscured what was once a lone tower in the area. But the pics at right and above show it pretty well.

The tower, under control of an investment group since 1995 or 1996, is now the tallest residential building in Missouri, and indeed the midwest, not counting Chicago.

If it has developed per plans, it has 179 rental apartments and two penthouse condominiums, along with offices and commercial space.

The building's owner, 909 Walnut Management LLC, is controlled by Simbol and Housing Horizons LLC, a unit of Kimberly-Clark Corp. of Dallas. The Kansas City Council approved a 25-year tax abatement.

Here are some quality links about the tower: The developer's own site, for sales and leasing
Site from the company that made the 17,000 sq. ft. roof top garden, atop the parking garage.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Winnwood Beach--"The Atlantic City of the West"

I first heard of Winnwood Beach, an amusement park formerly at I-35 and Chouteau, while standing in the Clay County Annex Building one day, getting license tags. There is an impressive display case and a large mural in the lobby, installed in 2000.

A printed single-page history of Winnwood Beach, by Reta Jo Mitchell, was also available. Her research is remarkable.

According to a monument plaque in front of the Chouteau Drive Blockbuster store, Winnwood Beach was the inspiration of Frank and Janet Winn, both grads of William Jewell College, and well-known hog breeders. (Update: Blockbuster has closed, and other tenants now occupy the space.)

In the early days, 1911, it was very basic, having just a lake for fishing and ice skating. But in 1913 the Interurban Railway came through the area, connecting Downtown to Liberty, (following basically the path still taken by Interstate 35 today) and this enabled Winnwood Beach to thrive.

The area soon encompassed 165 acres, bounded by 39th St. and 47th St. on the north and south, Winn Rd. on the east, and roughly Chouteau on the west, although past today's Chouteau. There were 3 lakes, Winnwood Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Lake Janet.

Note to married fellows: If you have the opportunity to name a lake, do like Mr. Winn and name it after your wife--You'll be puttin' deposits in the bank o' love.

Remnants of the smaller lake or lakes can still be found, as fishing ponds just west of McDonald's and the office building nearby. The big lake would have been somewhere on the campus of Target and Festival Foods, and was not drained till probably the 1970's.

"At Winnwood lake there was built a 1,500 foot long boardwalk, and 1,850 feet of sandy beach."

"In the years that followed, there came a 3-story bathhouse with 3,000 lockers, an impressive lake-spanning pier, water wheels, a daring flume ride, (first picture) a fun house, a zoo, and two roller coasters."

"Hundreds of cottages sprang up, financed at no interest by Mr. Winn." Wood for the grills was free, as was ice water. Attractions were about a nickel. Bathing suits could be rented (Ick!) and teens were employed to launder them for a penny each.

In the 30's, not only the economic depression hindered the park, but an explosion, at least two fires, and the collapse of the boardwalk one busy July 4th, battered its existance.

A new buyer purchased the park in 1942 and was able to keep swimming, dancing, skating, and the free outdoor movies going, into the 1960's. But crumbling dams, the building of Interstate 35, and other factors basically finished off the park.

The monument marker is difficult to read, as it has been marred by skateboarders, but is very informative. The park's main years for adding attractions seem to have been 1913 to around 1928, but it was still a healthy business beyond that, even if not in expansion mode.

So next time you drive on I-35 towards Liberty, and see the familiar Winnwood Skate Center on the hill, or Winnwood Baptist Church, or shop at Target or Festival Foods, or any of the many shops at Chouteau Crossings, pause and think of a simpler time, when families would swim and play in this area.

If you'll excuse me, I have an appointment at the IHOP restaurant over there, right now.

Here is a link to a Clay County resolution, honoring Reta Jo Mitchell.

And a link to the KC Public Library's Winnwood Beach items not available online is a wonderful site.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Electric Park

Electric Park was an amusement park, operating from about 1899 to 1907 in its first location, in the East Bottoms, and then from 1907 to 1925, in its second location at 47th and The Paseo. It is important to remember that this was the south end of town in those days.
Its main entry was across from where Newcomer's Funeral home is today.

It had actually begun earlier, in the East Bottoms, down the slope from the Cliff Drive, as the brainchild of Michael Heim, owner of Heim Brewery, but was moved and greatly expanded in 1907. 53,000 people attended the grand re-opening.

It was the era of Prohibition, so when the new park applied for a liquor license, the liquor board tried to stifle the sale of alcohol by invoking the provision that no more licenses would be issued until the city reached a population of 400,000. The oddity of a lack of beer at a brewery-sponsored park didn't seem to keep the crowds away. Later the new location was able to sell beer.

It was a popular attraction by day, no doubt, but the newness of electric illumination made it a must-see nighttime destination.

Its features included a lagoon, called Mirror Lake, as shown on this map, and lavish landscaping, as well as rides and attractions.

Some of these images are from, a website specializing in vintage postcards for sale. Please check it out, but be warned: It is addictive. One is from the KC Public Library, and one is from the Gary Looker collection. Look for a structure, in the lagoon picture, which is multi-sided and drum-shaped. Note how it is perched for good visibility from both land and water. It is a fountain, yes, but so much more.

According to the book Fountains of Kansas City, A History and Love Affair, by Sherry Piland and Ellen J. Uguccione, (Lowell Press) "A stunning attraction at both Electric Park locations, and the subject of numerous reminiscent accounts, was the Electric Park Fountain."

"Valued at $75,000.00 in the 1920's, the fountain was said to be one of only three Dunlap Illuminated Fountains in existance." "It was reportedly purchased in Europe by Michael Heim, and its display was thought to have been inspired by a similar tableau which had first been presented in Paris." (Enlarge pic to see that this is a real person.)

In the interest of space, I shall summarize: It was a 12- or 16-sided polygonal drum, (some pics show fewer sides than others--probably reflective of changes between first and second park locations) equipped with a manually operated lift. While jets of water went skyward, up would come a beautiful woman, in lavish costume! Raise your hands if you've seen anything like this, lately.

She would stand, still as marble, depicting some Biblical or historical event, while a narrator described it. The book goes on to describe a Mrs. Pearl Goelz, who was one of the performers. In a 1969 newspaper story, said she had been chosen, nine years running, as Queen Electra in the park's Mardi Gras bash. This entitled her to lead a parade and to flip the switch, bringing to life the many thousands of lights.

Now, Mrs. Goelz had also worked as a telephone operator and as a stenographer for a real estate office, in part of the nine years she did the performances.

Mrs. Goelz would appear nightly in the "Fountain Pictures" performance, earning $25 for each evening's fifteen-minute, nine-scene performance. Pretty good money for an entire day's work, in those years, and she made it in far less. In fairness, I don't know how early she had to show up, nor how late she was there after her fifteen minutes of performing.

Her husband would drop her off and pick her up. When he went away to war, her dad took her. (What, did she not drive? Perhaps few women drove in those days. What a glorious time it must have been. Kidding! I'm kidding.) Anyway, she and three other performers were assisted by a wardrobe mistress, below, to speed the changing process. They also used props and small furniture.

"The crowd was held spellbound, by the beauty of the girls, enhanced by the colorful moving lights." This, friends, is what has been missing from my Friday night entertainment pursuits.

In 1925, a fire damaged the fountain and it was never replaced, going down in history as a unique entertainment, mixing fountains, lights, and live performance. After all, automobiles and motion pictures now beckoned for entertainment dollars.
An uncomfortable discovery in my research was "Lincoln Electric Park," built because black Kansas Citians were denied access to the original Electric Park. I will research this further, and give that park its own post, if enough information is found.

Here is a link to a synopsis on the KC Public Library site, and the 1969 Kasas City Star story. is a wonderful site. is a postcard sales site.

A Word About the Photos

Just a word about the photos on this blog.

When I first began to click and save photos, it was strictly for personal research and enrichment, so I right-clicked and saved like a wild man, failing to save source info. Before long, it was tens of thousands of images.

I sincerely regret this now, as I want to share Kansas City facts and pictures with the world. (And provide credit and web links to those sources.)

As a short term solution, I have watermarked all photos which are my own. So any photos NOT watermarked as mine, were obtained online. (Except the Header Photo--It is mine, but the gigantic sizing of the watermark looked ridiculous.)

If anyone recognizes his or her photo, and contacts me, I will be happy to either: 1) Give proper credit to that photographer, as well as your own website or your page on, etc, 2) remove the photo entirely, (not my favorite option) or 3) replace it with a watermarked or smaller version of your photo.

In the case of my own photos, proper credit is all I'm interested in, not revenue. I am not a professional photographer, nor do I shoot with professional equipment. I have no plans to disable the "right-click-save feature" on my pics. But please give due credit.