Kansas City is rich in vintage hotel buildings. There are the Gothic arches of the Kansas City Hotel, the golden winged statue in the lobby of the Phillips for the ornate President with its cool drum room cocktail bar, the ornate facade of the Aladdin.
But right in the middle is the Mühlebach from 1915, which is now part of the Marriott Kansas City Downtown hotel complex, which also includes a tower from 1975 and an extension from 1996.
The original 12-story hotel is still on the corner of 12th Street and Baltimore. The ballroom, tea room, and meeting rooms serve the hotel complex’s guests, while the guest rooms, lobby, and beautiful street-level bar are waiting for a new future, according to the future, Marketing Director Cynthia Savage.
Savage’s father Philip Pistilli started as a dishwasher in Mühlebach in 1954 and helped introduce the boutique hotel concept with his Raphael Hotels in Chicago, Kansas City and San Francisco. He later ran the hotel where he started.
The main lobby. X.
This kind of personal story hints at the many stories lurking inside the walls of the great old lady that Chicago-based Holabird & Root designed for the Mühlebach family.
Lobby fireplace. X.
The ballroom lobby. X.
Who was Mühlebach?
The name Mühlebach is deeply rooted in KC history.
George E. Muehlebach Sr. and his three brothers and their sister were born in Argau, Switzerland in 1833 and landed in Kansas City (Westport, more precisely) in 1859 after stopping in Lafayette, Indiana.
Mühlebacher Brewery (PHOTO: Pinterest) X.
The drinking fountain. X.
After starting a saddlery and then a freight business, he and his brother John founded their eponymous brewery in 1869 and bought Main Street Brewery in what is now the Crossroads Arts District, which is now a concentration of craft breweries. The brewery was sold to Schlitz in 1956.
The stadium, which for decades was home to the Kansas City Blues, monarchs, athletics and royals as well as the football bosses of baseball, was named after Mühlebach when it was built in 1923. It became the Municipal Stadium in the mid-1950s.
The birth of the hotel
Mühlebach died in 1905, and George Jr., 23, was at the helm of his father’s brewery and real estate company, which had amassed an impressive portfolio of Kansas City real estate.
Young George Jr. was an accomplished businessman and doubled sales and size in his first eight years as head of the brewery.
A vintage view of the exterior. (PHOTO: Courtesy Marriott Kansas City Downtown) X.
A vintage look at the lobby. (PHOTO: Courtesy Marriott Kansas City Downtown) X.
He also funded the ballpark on the 22nd and Brooklyn in 1923, but by then he had already built his soaring Beaux Arts hotel out of brown brick and won one of the most famous architecture firms in the Midwest to do the job.
Tea room fireplace. X.
“It took a year to build,” says Savage. “They had no electricity, no trucks or anything, that’s kind of amazing. A year.”
It cost $ 2 million to build – on the site of the Old First Baptist Church – and is beautiful.
The tiled lobby floor. X.
The brass elevator doors. X.
The ballroom, which has been updated but retains some of the original features, is still in use today. The lobby and reception area directly in front of its door has the classic look of a hotel lobby with numerous decorated columns and molded parts.
It also has wood-beam ceilings, expansive and intricate tiled floors, mahogany columns, more ornate moldings, and a marble fireplace flanked by windows that lead into the slightly raised tea room beyond, which has its own fireplace.
The key slots at the reception. X.
Phone booths. X.
There are brass elevator doors, built-in library-style bookshelves in a corner, a gorgeous brass water fountain (which still works!), And a quartet of original phone boxes just across the street.
Behind the reception there is a classic old hotel wall made of post and key slots for the 500 rooms.
The cafe / bar. X.
The cafe / bar seating area. X.
Down a few steps and with windows facing Baltimore Avenue is a great coffee shop / salon with the seemingly original (or at least early) bar and the back bar.
One step further is a table seating area, which is separated by ornate railings. Glass door cabinets adorn the walls at opposite ends.
The library corner. X.
Outside there is limestone and terracotta decoration from street level – with a series of three-story arched window openings – to the cornice, including friezes and window domes.
It’s all called “stately accommodations”.
“It was a hotel for travelers,” says Savage, “and it was very luxurious at the time.”
The history is checked in
The Mühlebach was THE place to stay in Kansas City, that’s for sure.
To ensure this, Mühlebach has the team of Samuel Whitmore and Joseph Reichl as well as the Mid-Continent Hotel Company (later Whitmore Hotel Company), which worked with The Ritz in London and the New York Waldorf-Astoria, to manage the property won.
Every president from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan stayed at least one night at the hotel, as did pop stars like Al Jolson, Sinatra, Elvis, and the Beatles (who lived in the Terrace Penthouse on the 18th floor and held a press conference at the hotel); Movie stars like Jean Harlow, Mae West and Mary Pickford; Sports legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; and writers like Ernest Hemingway.
Helen Keller lived in Mühlebach and the daughter of the famous director Cecil B. DeMille was married there.
“Everyone who’s been someone since 1917 is here,” says Savage.
“Truman Capote wrote for the Kansas City star and he wrote ‘In Cold Blood’ in this lobby. Hemingway also worked for the Kansas City Star and was here. ”
The lobby stairs. X.
In fact, Hemingway put part of his novel “Across the River and Into the Trees” at the Mühlebach.
Most of these people were guests at the hotel when it belonged to Barney Allis, who arrived in 1931 and was so important to Kansas City that he named an entire square block after him: the popular Barney Allis Plaza is right outside the hotel doors of the Mühlebach -Additional.
In 1938 the Barbershop Harmony Society started in the hotel. 16 years earlier, the hotel hosted the first regular radio broadcast by an orchestra, in this case the Original Nighthawk Orchestra by Carelton Coon and Joe Sanders Coon-Sanders.
Coon-Sanders Orchestra. (PHOTO: Courtesy Marriott Kansas City Downtown) X.
In 1956 the Mühlebach was the first hotel in the world with built-in televisions.
But surely the greatest moment in the hotel’s history was when President Truman – a Missouri-born man who later died in Kansas City – signed a law in the presidential suite in 1948 promoting aid to Turkey and Greece as part of his postwar Truman Doctrine approved.
Truman was so often at the hotel that it became known as the “White House West”.
A postcard with the addition of 1952. X.
Although the Depression ruined an earlier plan to expand the Mühlebach, Allis built a 17-story annex to the west of the building (on the site of the Gayety Theater) in 1952, and in 1966 (at the location of the Orpheum Theater) a park structure was added .
By then, in 1962, Allis had sold the hotel and died a few months later in front of the Aladdin Hotel.
Postcard view of the Orpheum Theater and the Mühlebach Hotel. X.
In 1976, Radisson renovated the hotel, which had been in operation for a decade.
“This whole area fell into disrepair in the 1980s,” says Savage. “The whole hotel was closed.”
In the previous year, the huge Vista Hotel was opened across from the adjacent building. From 1987 the Vista was managed by the Raphael Hotel Group from Pistilli. Five years later, this building became the Marriott Kansas City Downtown.
The Marriott era
The 1996 addition. X.
The owners of the Marriott bought the Mühlebach in 1996 and tore down the extension from 1952 and replaced it with the current structure. The complex was renovated between 2011 and 2015, resulting in the nearly 1,000-room hotel that you see today.
However, these 1,000 rooms do not include the guest rooms in the original Mühlebach.
The implosion of the 1952 addition in 1996. (PHOTO: Lightbrush) X.
“They’re just mothballed,” says Savage. “Everything has been taken from them and right now they are in some negotiations with a group that could turn this into some condos.”
However, the hotel would continue to use the common areas and intends to reopen this lovely cafe / bar area on the Baltimore side of the lobby.
When you stand in the now quiet, empty lobby – once full of furniture and guests, full of activity – it’s easy to see it come back to life.
“It’s got nice details and some really cool historical stuff,” says Savage, who sounds wistful, probably at least in part due to her own family history embedded in the mill creek.
“It looks remarkably the same.”