Monday, July 27, 2009

Hollywood Regency chairs from KC's Hotel for Presidents

On a treasure hunt to pick up a washbasin for my potting shed, I spotted an ad on Craigslist for a moving sale. One of the items listed was a pair of Hollywood Regency style chairs from the old Muehlebach Hotel for $20 each. After picking up the basin and lunch, Steven and I swung over to Overland Park, Kansas to the sale.

The sale was being held by an older couple. They told us they were selling their home as they were moving on to a change in their life. Steven spotted an automotive trade magazine from 1983, and the woman said that she had retired from GM. The magazine was a special edition for GM's 75 birthday. Being car buffs, we snapped that up for a buck. I also got a set of gorgeous blue melamine dishes for $2.50. Meanwhile, I never took my eyes off the the chairs.

The couple's daughter told us that when the Muehlebach was closed, her mother had outfitted their entire cabin in treasures from the hotel. I was instantly in love. Steven looked a little perplexed as to why I wanted the chairs. They were heavily laquered in paint that perhaps once was white, and the upholstery was dark orange. I told them I had a vision, and that the chairs had HISTORY.

Once home, I started researcing the Muehlebach Hotel and was so excited to have picked up the chairs. (At half-off since it was late in the day, mind you. $20 for both chairs). So, here I will give great detail on the hotel... for those interested in historic hotels, for the KC people who might wander on to this blog later, and for my own records since I think it is a really neat story.

When people think Kansas City, they don't think glamour or glitz. But back in the Jazz Age, KS was the place to be. Heard of Charlie "Birdman" Parker or Count Basie? Well, they were here in KC. What I would give to spend a day in KC back then. Dreamy! Anyway...

In downtown Kansas City stands the historic Muehlebach Hotel. Known as "Kansas City's Hotel for Presidents", every president from Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan has visited the hotel, and every president from Woodrow Wilson to Richard Nixon has stayed in the Presidential Suite.
Presidential Suite, 1979
Truman and his associates apparently called it, simply, "the penthouse." It served as Truman's headquarters in Kansas City from the time of his vice presidential campaign in 1944 until he left the presidency in 1953. The hotel has also serviced many celebrities including Babe Ruth, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, etc.

Truman party at the Muehlebach Hotel

In mid-December 1917, Ernest Hemingway wrote home from a press room in the Hotel Muehlebach. He expected a raise. "All the fellows say there ought to be one coming to me,'' he said. Sometimes, working late on assignment and too tired to ride the long trolley car home to Agnes Ave., Hemingway would sleep in a bathtub in the Muehlebach's pressroom, using towels for a mattress. He later glorified the hotel's beds, not its bathtubs, in the novel "Across the River and Into the Trees."
Old Guest Register

The Muehlebach was built with funds from the estate of George Muehlebach, who came to Kansas City from Switzerland in 1857 and opened a saddle shop. His farm and vineyard were west of Westport. Later he established a brewery, Muehlebach Beer,first located at 18th and Main. The hotel, erected after his death, was leased to the Trianon Hotel Company.

Postcard from 1916, right after opening

The lobby of the Hotel Muehlebach, with its thick Oriental rugs, writing desks, tall lamps, potted palms, lounge chairs and a roaring wood fire, is pictured on an old promotional post card, one of a set, put out by the hotel shortly after it opened in1916.

George E. Muehlebach, Jr., started working for the brewery after his graduation from Spalding's Business College. In 1905 after the death of his father he became president of the brewery.
As a teenager, George had played first base on the Muehlebach Brewing Company’s Pilseners baseball team, spawning a keen interest in the sport. He owned the Kansas City Blues, twice American Association champions, from 1917 to 1932. Muehlebach built a half-million dollar ballpark at 22nd and Brooklyn in 1923, the only park in its league free of billboards. Under various names, Muehlebach Stadium was Kansas City’s ballpark until the Truman Sports Complex was built.

Street-view, 1930. Aren't the cars a hoot?

The original 12-story building was constructed in 1915, designed by Holabird and Roche. The site used for the hotel was one formerly occupied by the old First Baptist church, a frame building built in 1880, the gift of Col. And Mrs. W. H. Harris. Land and church cost $30,000.Services were held there until 1908, when the congregation sold the church and site for $150,000, took their pipe-organ and moved temporarily to Thirteenth and Broadway. They later built a new stone church at Linwood avenue and Park street at a cost of $100,000.For five years the old Twelfth street church stood empty, used only for ballyhoo, annual shows, an occasional menagerie and whisky advertisements.

Side-View, 1928

The Muehlebachs started tearing down the old landmark in June, 1913, and financing their plans for a big hotel.The hotel was extended west to Wyandotte street in 1952 and four years later the 17-story Muehlebach Towers was added on Wyandotte. The hotel was remodeled in the 1970s and closed in the 1980s. Marriott bought hotel in 1996 as an annex to their downtown hotel. Two years and millions of dollars were spent restoring the hotel in accordance with historic preservation guidelines as the hotel is both a state and federal landmark.

After all that... NO! You don't get to see the chairs yet. That is in my next post. :)

Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City Star, A Writer's Haunts: Where He Worked and Where He Lived.

1 comment:

Carla said...

Can't wait to see the chairs!