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CJ Coombs

Kansas City's historic Scarritt Building and Arcade: a century of history and architecture

Historic Scarritt Building and Arcade, Kansas City, Missouri.Photo byMwkruse, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Scarritt Building and Arcade at 819 Walnut Street in Kansas City, Missouri is over 100 years old. Since it was constructed in 1906, it's definitely historic. The architectural firm was Root & Siemens. On March 9, 1971, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The detailing on the building is attractive and impressive.

The Scarritt Building was the second skyscraper in Kansas City. It was constructed by the Scarritt Estate Company, which was founded by Nathan Scarritt III's children: Anne S. Hendrix, Edward Lucky Scarritt, Nathan Scarritt IV, William Chick Scarritt, Charles Wesley Scarritt, and Martha Matilda Scarritt. (According to the Find-a-Grave website, there was a total of nine children.) Their father, Nathan Scarritt III, was an early Kansas City settler who came to the region in 1848. He was a teacher and a preacher, and he owned a lot of property. He died on May 22, 1890, at age 69.
Detail of masonry screen above the south entrance, bearing its name, Scarritt Building, 1906.Photo byHistoric American Buildings Survey, Creator, 1973, retrieved from Library of Congress.

The architectural style of the building is influenced by the Chicago School, and especially by Louis Sullivan. In an 1896 article in Lippincott’s Magazine, Sullivan explained how a skyscraper should be built and should have three major areas: base, shaft, and cornice.

The building is a great example of how an early 1900s structure expresses the “love of natural light.” There are also two large three-story light wells that pierce through the center of the Arcade Building. At one time as far back as 2018, it was a wedding venue and it contained office space. Visit here to see those images which display how the sources of light come into the ballroom.

The cost to build this historic building was $750,000, which is $25,425,750 in today's dollars. The Scarritt Estate Company built the Scarritt Building for much-needed office space in Kansas City.

In 2013, a plan to convert the building into apartments fell through. In 2015, it had an occupancy rate of 35%. In the same year, another developer purchased the building and planned to convert it into affordable apartments. Another change of hands occurred in 2019. The building was acquired by a Florida developer, Augustine Development Co. Initially, the plans were to convert it into a Wyndham Hotel and the Arcade Building was going to be a co-working office space. (At that time, co-working spaces were popular.)
Detail of terra cotta ornament above the 11th-story window. Photograph taken April 1973.Photo byHistoric American Buildings Survey, creator, retrieved from Library of Congress.

Then the pandemic hit. The Augustine Development Co. had to modify its plans. In January of this year, it was reported the plan was to renovate both buildings into 126 apartments. The 11-story tower on Grand and its adjoining 4-story Arcade Building are "considered the finest example in Kansas City of the Chicago School architectural style championed by Louis Sullivan." (Source: City Scene KC.)

Other nearby historic buildings are the New York Life Building and the New England Building, both of which are also listed on the National Register.

From 1992 to 2008, STRATA Architecture Inc. performed a complete interior and exterior restoration as well as some renovation work on the main building and Arcade Building. Visit here to see images.

It's so easy to take for granted the historic buildings around us. Most don't stop to think about how they were built or what happened in them. But when you do, it's fascinating. I enjoy learning about architects from the 1800s and early 1900s.

I'm a fan of historic buildings and homes. I think it's incredible that a building older than a century is still standing. When a historic structure is torn down, we lose more than a building, we lose the stories inside. Saving, restoring, or repurposing a building helps keep history alive.

Thanks for reading!

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