Search KC History Guy--Darrell L James

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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the address of a 70+ year-old building, telling all your office tower tenants that all their printed materials are now out of date, and must be replaced.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 builing 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 seing 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.