Urban Explorers: Pickwick Plaza
Event Sponsors: Plasterkraft
Tickets are available on our Eventbrite page HERE.
To get a sense of what the Pickwick Plaza Hotel once was, you might take a look at “In Cold Blood,” the movie where Robert Blake played the infamous murderer Perry Smith. One of the earliest scenes was shot in the lobby.
From the national register listing, “The firm owned by Thomas and Edward Wight was responsible for numerous buildings in the early 20th century in Kansas City. Wight and Wight became a leading firm in the city through its work in the Neo-Classical tradition. The Wight brothers had received training in Europe and were thus exposed to the magnificent, classical architecture of the Victorian period.
Situated near the seat of government, the Pickwick Hotel could bill itself as being the place to stay when conducting official business in Kansas City. The Pickwick Office Building semed as overflow space for county and federal government offices over the years. The Immigration and Naturalization Service. FCC, ICC. FDA and Navy all called the Pichwick home while the new federal building was constructed across the street in the late 1930’s. As development continued in the surrounding downtown area, the bustle shifted southwest, away from the river towards the developing residential and service zones, leaving the Pickwick Complex on the edge of the core.
This shift of the limelight to other sections of downtown provided the quiet solitude for a famous Missourian to collect his thoughts. Throughout his early political career, Harry Truman retreated to the Pickwick Hotel in order to compose his often hectic and overwhelming life and put pen to paper in what came to be known as the “Pickwick Papers.” Truman believed in recording one’s thoughts and life experiences, and found the comfortable hotel, not far from the site of his former haberdashery, to be a convenient place. “One of the most introspective entries in the Truman’s “Pickwick Papers” was written on May 15, 1934, during the early morning hours before the announcement of his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. In its pages, he reveals his struggle to attain a resolution between his personal code of ethics and the realities of political expediency.”
Operating throughout World War II and early postwar years, the Pickwick Complex participated in the growth of Kansas City, housing both workers and travelers; while the bus station operated by Greyhound served the transportation needs of the urban population. The Bus Terminal, billed as one of, if not the, largest terminal west of the Mississippi River, accommodated 4,433 scheduled departures monthly in the early 1950’s. In addition to the original buildings, an 11 floor penthouse was constructed atop the hotel. It was used by radio stations KMBC and WHB, which broadcast from that location until late 1968.
By the 1960’s, the flight of the population to the suburbs and the ongoing shift from public to private transportation ensured that downtown Kansas City would suffer from the same decline as other inner cities. Many downtown buildings were demolished or substantially renovated throughout the 1950-70’s, leaving relatively few pre-war buildings to represent what had been a dominant commercial architectural theme for the city: classical proportion and bulk blended with subtle Art Deco detailing. Luckily, the Pickwick Complex maintained its faqade and much of its interior finishing throughout this period.”
Urban Explorers tours are members only and require guests to wear boots or at least solid toed shoes. Hard hats will be provided.