Municipal Auditorium
Kansas City, MO

The Municipal Auditorium at 13th and Central Streets, Kansas City, MO
Postcard courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

The Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri was built in 1934 as part of the "Ten Year Plan" championed by various local politicians including (Senator) Harry S. Truman and Thomas Pendergast.1 The "TenYear Plan" was a coordinated effort to help Kansas City organize city improvements. It was officially launched in 1931 during the mayoral administration of Bryce Smith, with Henry F. McElroy as City Manager, although there had been talk of such a plan by other mayors.2

The Municipal Auditorium at 13th and Wyandotte Streets - 1937
Photo by Anderson courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

It was the largest of a group constructed under the "plan" and occupies the square block bounded by 13th, 14th, Wyandotte and Central streets in downtown Kansas City.  Other buildings in the plan included the Kansas City City Hall and the Kansas City branch of the Jackson County Courthouse.1  Construction of the Municipal Auditorium provided 2,000 jobs and cost about $6.5 million, including $1,135,000 from the Public Works Administration.3

When the building opened in 1935, it was called by the Architectural Record "one of the 10 best buildings of the world that year." 1 Literature at the time of its opening noted that no expense was spared on the interior decor and accommodations. Color schemes, lighting, furniture, artwork and a wealth of art deco design elements were carefully chosen to give it a finished, even lavish appearance.4

The art deco architecture features were a characteristic design by Hoit Price & Barnes which also designed the Kansas City Power and Light Building at about the same time. The other architect firm in the design Gentry, Voskamp & Neville was to design the Truman Library.  It replaced Convention Hall which was directly across the street, as was the Robert E. Lee Hotel built in 1925 at 13th and Wyandotte Streets.1

Municipal Auditorium Lobby - 1936
Photo courtesy The Kansas City Public Library

The auditorium was designed to accommodate the broadest possible range of events -- conventions, athletic events, exhibitions, industrial shows, concerts, plays or lectures, big or small.  The building includes three large spaces: the multi-purpose arena, the Music Hall and an elegant little ballroom known as the Little Theater, each added in 1936.  Each space is easily accessible through its own lobby, complete with coat-check room, box office and marquee.  Events were held in each of the facilities simultaneously, without conflict.4

The Kansas City Municipal Auditorium Arena - ca.1936
Photo by Robert Askren courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

The arena has seating for 10,500 people (7,316 permanent seats, 2,405 seats on risers plus capacity for 1,000 theater-style on main floor). It has a 92-foot ceiling -- high enough for a trapeze artist -- and a 24,000-square-foot floor built of oak two-by-fours strong enough to support an elephant. The arena measures 301 by 291 feet, and the oval floor is 130 by 220 feet. There are no pillars or posts to obstruct patrons' view.4

President Roosevelt speaking to a crowd, possibly at the Auditorium - Oct. 13, 1936
Kansas City Journal-Post Photo courtesy The Kansas City Public Library

President Roosevelt dedicates the new Municipal Auditorium, Oct. 13, 1936
Photo by Robert Askren courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

The Auditorium was packed with people when it was formally dedicated on October 13, 1936. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in attendance and the keynote speaker on this occasion.3

Ben Bernie performance at municipal Auditorium 1936
Photo courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

Musicians playing onstage during Ted Mack Show in Arena - 1950
Photo courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

Nearly every U.S. president or would-be president since the 1930s has taken his campaign to the Municipal Auditorium.  It has been the scene of everything from political conventions and basketball championships to philharmonic performances and circuses.3

The Hotel Robert E. Lee at 13th and Wyandotte Streets ca.1945-50
Robert Askren Photograph Collection Kansa City Library

In April of 1954, only 29 years after its construction, the Hotel Robert E. Lee situated across 13th Street from the Auditorium was torn down. During demolition, the eighth and ninth floors collapsed into the street pelting two passing motorists and narrowly missing four pedestrians.  No one was injured.5 The block was replaced with a park and underground parking garage.

Kansas City Downtown at 12th and Central Streets - ca. 1955
Photo courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

Hundreds of fans of singer Eddie Fisher stood for hours outside - Nov. 13, 1954
Photo © Bettmann/CORBIS

Eddie Fisher, (husband to Debbie Reynolds at the time) was a pre-Rock and Roll big band vocalist. He had been drafted into the US Army in 1951 and served a year in Korea.  He later was the official vocal soloist for the Army Band, a role replaced by Faron Young after his discharge in 53.  Fisher's strong and melodious tenor made him a teen idol and one of the most popular singers of the early 1950s. He had seventeen songs in the Top 10 on the music charts between 1950 and 1956 and thirty-five in the Top 40.6

Eddie Fisher signs autographs as police keep fans from overwhelming him. Nov. 13, 1954
Photo © Bettmann/CORBIS

On November 13, 1954, hundreds of fans stood for hours outside the Municipal Auditorium to gain entrance to Eddie Fisher's free concert with the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra. When they got in, and Fisher appeared, he was kept busy fighting for room and breath, signing autographs as he and his police escort pushed toward the platform.3

Full frontal and side view at 13th and Wyandotte Streets - ca.1956
Photo by Montgomery courtesy MVSC of the Kansas City Public Library

In May of 1956, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ made an appearance for one (incomplete) performance in Kansas City at the Municipal Auditorium Arena. It is only a few blocks south of US 40.  In what must have been haphazard, grueling drive for the band around the Mid West in the days before the Interstates, they had started earlier in the month in Wisconsin and Minnesota and had covered dates in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa. They had played the evening before in Sioux City and were now working their way easterly for the remaining shows that month.

Bill and Elvis onstage in Kansas City - May 24, 1956
Photo by Bill Van Pool, courtesy Movieland Dec. 1957 and FECC/thefool

As overwhelming as the crowd almost was for Eddie Fisher a couple of years earlier, the crowd for Elvis' appearance, though smaller, was, to quote the title of one of Elvis' songs,  "Too Much."  The review in the Kansas City Star the following day read:

Poised for a rush over the footlights, some of these girls leaped on the stage toward Elvis Presley, as the rock 'n' roll singer (right) struck a long note last night at the Arena of the Municipal Auditorium. One girl led the way by going over the footlights alone and kissing the young singer. In an instant teenagers swarmed over the stage, screaming. Presley broke from the grasp of several who were tearing at his clothing and ran back stage, abandoning his bass player and drummer. A motor car stationed in the corridor took the singer away as hundreds of fans raced after it. Presley's exit ended the show.
Kansas City Star Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's "Faces and Stages"


Surge of Teen-Agers Convinces Guitarist It Isn't Safe to Stay and Finish His Song.
By Bill Moore (A Member of the Star's Staff)

Elvis Presley, the males and modern version of what some gay old blades may remember as the sideshow dancer, lasted just 20 minutes on the stage of the Municipal Auditorium Arena last night before the mob started after him.
Elvis fought his way clear of the hysterical swarm of teen-age girls that broke through he police lines, then he jumped into a motor car parked in the corridor backstage and was off like a frightened gazelle. He left in the middle of a note - if the act he had been performing could be called singing.
Heartbreak at Exit.
The girls rushed the back exit, milled around in the corridor and were finally pushed back by police. But Elvis was gone. There wasn't much left to do but to move out the crowd.
Elvis, who is 21, is billed as the nation's only atomic-powered singer. Some of the adults in the audience of 2500 commented that if this is the use to be made of atomic power, the idea of splitting the atom was the saddest mistake the world has made.
Between gyrations, Elvis jigs across the stage dragging the microphone after him leaning at almost horizontal angles. He whangs the daylights out of a guitar. He shouts and moans. But the Presley voice - and there may be some who will still insist he has one - is lost on the screams of the girl enthusiasts.
A Few Boys in Crowd.
Elvis took the stage at 9:30 o'clock, wearing a fox-hunt scarlet coat and black pants. Several hundred girls, apparently ranging in age from 12 to 17 for the most part, left their seats and made the big rush forward. There were a few teen-age boys in the crowd which barged up to be within almost touching distance, but it was the girls who touched off the sustained pandemonium that followed. One girl got through before Elvis had twanged his first note on the guitar. Sobbing and shrieking she was led off the stage by a patrolman. Then Elvis went into his act. The noise hit a higher pitch. His gyrations got looser and faster.
Problem for Police.
Police gathered on the stage. Others strode at a sort of a dog trot around the sides, attempting to herd the girls back - gently but just sort of firmly. But police have a rough time of it when the opposition is composed of young young girls caught up in such an emotional dither. The police had a choice of getting rough or just letting things take their course. They chose not to get rough.
Elvis got through four or five songs before the roof finally fell in. A girl got past the police, bounced up on the stage, and hugged and kissed her panting crocodile. A policeman got her off again, but the signal for the avalanche was on.
As the cool cats would say, they were determined to get really with him. They poured over the front and over the sides of the stage. They surrounded their almost prostrated hero, reaching for buttons, a piece of his shirt, a lock of his ducktail or anything else they could grab. The Presley gyrations stopped suddenly. He was immobilized.
Cats at His Heels.
Then he broke out and fled, a couple of steps ahead of his pursuers. Hours later some of the girls were reported groping aimlessly through the lobbies of the downtown hotels, calling for Elvis. It is reported that the next Presley stop is Detroit. An inspector for the welfare department said when it was all over that he hoped the entertainer would keep going until he reached a point from which his voice, if heard at all, will be the faintest of echoes - some spot, say, like Outer Mongolia.
The crowd was described by Harry Peebles, operator of a booking agency at Wichita, as one of the smallest Elvis ever has drawn. Peebles said too many students were home boning up for high school final examinations.
Calm Before Storm.
The performance started at 8:10 o'clock and before the Presley appearance on the stage it was confined to clean type of singing and comedy. The other members of his troupe played and sang everything form swing stuff to Dixieland. There was a 6-piece band, a girl singer, a comedian, a lyric tenor, and a men's quartet. Their part of the show was entertainment. It was received with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm was within bounds.
An adult who has an important role in show business here lingered in the auditorium after the tumult and shouting had died away. He was asked for his reaction to the Presley performance. He did not speak. He merely pressed two fingers to his nose.

Kansas City Star - May 24, 1956 courtesy Kansas City Public Library

From Kansas City, the band headed northeast for appearances at Detroit's Fox theater the next day.

Louis Armstrong entertains at Kansas City Auditorium - Nov. 7, 1964
Photo © Bettmann/CORBIS

Elvis at the matinee and evening shows in the Municipal Auditorium - June 29, 1974
Photos courtesy Brian's Elvis Corner and Elvis Presley in Concert

On June 29, 1974, Elvis returned to perform in the two shows in the Municipal Auditorium.

In addition to the long list of performers that have performed at the Arena, it has also had an impressive history with basketball over the years. The NCAA was headquartered in the Kansas City metropolitan area from 1951 until 1999.  During its days in Kansas City, the Municipal Auditorium hosted nine Final Four basketball tournaments (three of the first four), the most of any venue.7

Basketball in the Municipal Auditorium
Photo courtesy Ballparks by Munsey & Suppes

Starting in 1972, the Kansas City Kings played their first two seasons at the Auditorium, prior to moving to the new 19,500 seat Kemper Arena was built in 1974 to accommodate Kansas City's professional basketball teams.  They returned for the majority of the 1979-80 season after the roof of Kemper Arena caved in on June 4, 1979, then by 1985 had moved to Sacramento.1

The Municipal Auditorium from Wyandotte towards 13th Street - Oct. 27, 2003

It has hosted the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament since 2003, held every year in early March. When Kansas City hosts the Big 12 tournament, women's games take place here. It is currently home to the NAIA Men's Division I Basketball National Tournament. It was played here from 1937-1975, when it moved into Kemper, and has been home since the Tournament moved back to Kansas City from Tulsa in 2002.  It is home to the University of Missouri–Kansas City Kangaroos basketball team.  As of 2007, Municipal Auditorium had hosted more NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament games (83), regional finals (13) and Final Fours (9) than any other facility.1

The Municipal Auditorium and the Kansas City Convention Center  - Oct. 27, 2003

The Kansas City Convention Center  - Oct. 27, 2003

Today, the Municicpal Auditorium is part of the new Kansas City Convention and Entertainment Facilities, which includes the adjacent H. Roe Bartle Hall, a three-story Conference Center.  The Center has 388,800 square feet of column-free exhibit space on one floor plus another 55,000 square feet of additional space on two levels, 45 meeting rooms and a 46,000 square foot Grand Ballroom. Municipal Auditorium connects directly to Level 2 of the Conference Center, to the underground parking garage and downtown hotel walkway system.8

The foyer of the Municipal Auditorium Music Hall
Photo courtesy City of Kansas City's Convention and Entertainment Facilities

With seating for 2,400, the Art Deco Music Hall offers all the amenities for world-class productions-orchestra pit, chorus dressing rooms, star dressing rooms, green room, and high-quality lighting and sound systems. It is used for special convention presentations, general sessions and featured entertainment. Broadway Across America the exclusive Broadway show provider brings the finest touring productions, musicals and family shows to the Music Hall.8

Municipal Auditorium Music Hall
Photo courtesy City of Kansas City's Convention and Entertainment Facilities

The Kansas City Music Hall is the home of the 1927 Robert-Morton Theatre Pipe Organ that originally was in the Kansas City Midland Theatre. The organ is owned and maintained by Kansas City Theatre Pipe Organ, Inc.1

Municipal Auditorium Little Theatre
Photo courtesy City of Kansas City's Convention and Entertainment Facilities

The Little Theatre is still an intimate, octagonal reception room with gleaming marble façade and promenade, balcony and jeweled art deco light fixtures.  The room features a permanent stage area with recommended banquet seating for 220. The balcony overlooks the main floor on five sides. Lighted alcoves provide a sheltered setting for beverage service.8

from Wyandotte towards 13th Street - July 25, 2008
Photo by Charvex

Like the Arena and the Music Hall, the Little Theatre has its own entrance with a lighted marquee, lobby, box office, coat-check and restrooms. Visitors may also enter through the Municipal Auditorium’s Grand Foyer, or from the Auditorium Plaza Garage by way of an underground walkway.8

The Kansas City Municipal Auditorium at 13th and Central Streets
Photo courtesy City of Kansas City's Convention and Entertainment Facilities

page added October 22, 2009

Special thanks to Brenda Hunnicutt of the Kansas City Public Library for her assistance with all ads and articles or 1956 from the Kansas City Tribune and Kansas City Star.  Many of the photos used here are from the Missouri Valley Special Collections of the Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

1 excerpts from Municipal Auditorium (Kansas City) courtesy Wikipedia
2 excerpt from Kansas City’s Ten-Year Plan Records - July 9, 1992 - Western Historical Manuscript Collection
3 according to the Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
4 excerpt from "The Municipal Auditorium" - Ballparks by Munsey & Suppes
5 according to Kansas City: In Vintage Postcards By Darlene Isaacson, Elizabeth Wallace
6 according to  Eddie Fisher courtesy Wikipedia
7 excerpt from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) courtesy docstoc
8 excerpt from City of Kansas City's Convention and Entertainment Facilities website


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