Kansas City's Hotel Muehlebach: 100 Years Of Memories
In May of 1915, the Hotel Muehlebach opened its doors in downtown Kansas City with a 500 balloon release from the roof. In the 100 years since, there have been booms and busts, multiple renovations, and visits from Babe Ruth, The Beatles and 16 presidents.
At its opening, the Muehlebach was boasted as the most opulent hotel in Kansas City, originally with 12 stories, 500 rooms, two restaurants, a tea room and a music room. It was the first hotel in the area to have air conditioning — a luxury at the time.
“They even had an ice skating rink at one point in its history, a barbershop that was a whole level, it was the place,” Cynthia Savage, Vice-President of the Raphael Hotel group told host Danie Alexander on Up To Date.
The hotel made history in 1922 when Kansas City jazz group The Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawks Orchestra aired their first live nationwide broadcast from the hotel’s Plantation Grill.
Considered a second home to President Harry S. Truman, the hotel served as his Kansas City headquarters.
Dixie, who called in to Up To Date remembers her father’s interactions with President Truman.
“When I was a little girl ... I remember [a representative for the President] called my father and said ‘The boss wants to see and visit you up at the Muehlebach’ and so my father took me with him and we went up to his suite and visited for an hour.”
Another caller, Marsha, also remembers visiting the hotel with her father as a child in the 1960s.
“What a magical experience," she said. "We would ride the elevators, and the restaurant where there was a woman who played the harp and I had never seen such a beautiful instrument before... it was a kids paradise."
Cynthia Savage, whose father Phil Pistilli was a long-time manager at the Muehlebach, said that one of her father’s favorite memories was meeting a charismatic young man who was looking forward to a bright future in politics.
“In the late 1950s when Harry Truman was in for a meeting, he asked my dad to take a young senator to the airport, and it was Jack Kennedy. It was always a memory my dad really enjoyed,” she said.
Savage said Barney Allis, a long-time and well respected manager at the hotel, recruited her father right out of the Cornell School of Hotel Management. He made him start as a dishwasher, to learn appreciation for every position at a hotel.
Its a lesson that Pistilli passed on to his children, both of whom are still in the hotel business.
“My favorite part about coming to the hotel was every weekend we would walk through the building and say 'hi' to everybody. It was a weekend ritual and I loved it, he made everybody from the dishwashers on seem like family.”
Kurt Mayo, who is the general manager at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kansas City, Kansas, got his start in the industry in 1970 at the Hotel Muehlebach’s front desk, which incidentally is his favorite spot in the hotel.
He described downtown as buzzing even into the early 70s. He said the downtown hotels could barely keep up with demand.
“Back then there was a certain amount of rooms available and on each front desk there was a box with lights on it and each hotel had its name on a box,” Mayo told Alexander. “If you had rooms, your light was on and if you were full, your light was off. That way if someone walked in and you couldn’t accommodate them, you could refer them someplace else.”
Both Savage and Mayo expressed their happiness that downtown is starting to become the exciting place that it was when they were young. Though the original Muehlebach building is closed off and the rooms empty, Savage is hopeful that one day the original hotel rooms will be renovated for use again.