1978 fire still deadliest in city history

Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

By MICHAEL BUSHNELL
Northeast News
February 5, 2014

Coat House Postcard

Thirty six years ago on Jan. 28, 1978, as hotel guests slept in their roughly $1.75 per night beds, fire broke out in the historic Coates House Hotel. It would be almost four hours until the Kansas City Fire Department brought the tragic fire under control in the frigid January temperatures.

The scene resembled a stark palace of ice, smoking ashes and a makeshift morgue nearby where the victims were brought. When all was said and done, 20 people lost their lives and the Salvation Army provided assistance for more than 100 people who were essentially homeless after the fire. It is to this day Kansas City’s deadliest fire in terms of lives lost.

The over-riding question was would what remained of the hulking north portion of the hotel be saved or would it fall victim to the wrecking ball? Fortunately, preservationists ruled the day. In July of 1979, HKCF (Historic Kansas City Foundation) purchased the hotel until a viable buyer-developer could be found. Meanwhile, cleanup began in earnest on the smoke charred timbers and scorched bricks. In 1984, St. Louis-based McCormack-Baron purchased the hotel and began one of the greatest restoration projects of the day. That development spurred the ongoing revitalization of the Quality Hill district.

Today, the Coates House is home to luxury apartments and condominiums and stands as one of the city’s greatest preservation works.

This postcard was published by the E.C. Kropp Company of Kansas City, Mo. It was sent on May 14, 1926, to Miss Dot Hill of St. Louis, Mo. The message reads: “Come up and see my hotel as it is pretty. Love, Aunt Pebble.”