Restricted Access: Kansas City Power and Light Building

Kansas City Lights. They shine for me so bright.

Kansas City Lights. They shine for me so bright. Well, they used to, but they’ve been dark for awhile.

Kansas City Power and Light Building

Here’s a first for Flyover Adventures: a restricted access tour of a place you can’t visit on your own. The first post of this sort features the Kansas City Power and Light Building, thanks to the Urban Explorers Tours with the Historic Kansas City Foundation.

Most people who have any idea what the KCP&L Building is would recognize it as the Kansas City skyscraper that has a top that changes color – or used to. Up until relatively recently, the skyscraper featured an illumination scheme that lit the light in a constant rotation from green to red to gold.

Vacated by Kansas City Power and Light in 1991, the building lost its last tenant in 2014 as it is prepared for renovations and redevelopment into apartment buildings.

Fortunately, the Urban Explorers event allowed us a rare tour of the building and its upper floors.

The lower levels of the building are dripping with art deco flair. Elevator doors are etched. Marble floors have inlaid designs. Even the smallest details seem to have grandiose design that scream out: “LOOK AT ME! I’M ART DECO”

Why just have a vent cover, when you can have AN AMAZING, EYE-POPPING, ART DECO VENT COVER EXTRAVAGANZA!?!

Why just have a vent cover, when you can have AN AMAZING, EYE-POPPING, ART DECO VENT COVER EXTRAVAGANZA!?!

And scream it should. It was the largest building in Missouri from its opening in 1931 until 1976. If the Great Depression hadn’t had its way with the real estate market the KCP&L Building would have had an attached twin, as evidenced by the building’s conspicuous lack of windows on the west side.

Who needs windows when you’re expecting a conjoined twin?

Maybe the windowless wall is an ironic symbol for how this town’s fortunes are at the fate of Wall Street. Maybe it’s an unintended statement of how this town sets its sights on unacheivable goals. It’s rich with metaphor, however you wish to take it.

The highlight of the tour was getting an up-close and inside look at the fanciful tower top with its starburst lantern windows and spires. Countless children through the generations have wondered at the lantern spire as it slid through its rainbow of colors. Well, except for the most recent generation, since the lantern is now lit but the interior is dark.

Looking up into the KCP&L Building's starburst lantern windows.

Looking up into the KCP&L Building’s starburst lantern windows.

At 34 stories, the steel and stone structure is surprisingly alive in strong winds. When we visited on a cold spring day earlier this year, the winds were incredible, and the tower sang with them. Because of the winds, we weren’t allowed outside on the deck areas, so our cityscape photo ops were somewhat limited.

Fortunately, the future for the KCP&L Building is as bright as its lantern top used to be.

The building is being prepped for 200 apartments in a $63.6 million redevelopment.

When all is said and done, the top will shine like never before with new energy-efficient LED lights, and though the building won’t get its twin, a new parking structure will stand on its west side.

Even though this is currently a restricted site that you cannot visit, future generations will be able to get an even better view than I did on my tour, as the redevelopment plan calls for 32nd floor lounge and terrace with access to the decks… as long as it’s not too windy.


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