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City Hall At 75

City Hallin downtown Kansas City, Missouri, turns 75 this year. It’s one of several city landmarks, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, designed by the architecture firm, Wight and Wight. On a recent windy afternoon, Dr. Bill Worley stood on the front steps of City Hall. Worley explained that the building was one of the projects created during a Depression-era public works program called The Ten-Year Plan- the brainchild of political boss Tom Pendergast, City Manager Henry McElroy, and then-Judge Harry Truman. The idea: to create jobs during the Depression.

Interview highlights:

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR
Historian Bill Worley outside City Hall, December 2012.

City improvements and city jobs: The Ten-Year Plan was a $50 million bond issue, "which in those days was quite a substantial sum," said Bill Worley. But it was viewed as a way to get back people back to work in a tough economy.

"In 1931, it was clear that unemployment was going to be a big problem in Kansas City, as it was across the country," he said. "To counter that, these three men put together the idea of a Ten-Year Plan. They would borrow money that would be repaid over a ten-year period to build public buildings in Kansas City, in Independence, and to pave roads and streets throughout Kansas City and Jackson County."

City Hall and its 20,000 cubic feet of concrete: "Tom Pendergast as a political operator understood that there were several ways to profit from that particular effort. One of them was by having companies that would sell products to the city and county for construction," Worley said. "He organized a number of companies, probably the most prominent and well-known of which was Ready-Mixed Concrete."

29-story skyscraper with a 30th-story observation deck: "At this point, it is one of the highest points in downtown...you really can see the whole area. It's just a remarkable view of everything that has been at the heart of the city since well back into the 19th century."

The City of Kansas City, Missouri hosts a public celebration on Thursday, December 6, 2012, 10:45 am - 1 pm, first floor rotunda, City Hall, 414 E. 12th Street, Kansas City, Mo. Light refreshments, including punch and cake, will be provided, with music by Will Matthews, guitarist for the Count Basie Orchestra.

Laura Spencer is staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and a former arts reporter at KCUR.
Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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