Ghostly guests at Kansas City’s Coates House

Michael Bushnell
Publisher


The foundation for the Coates House, originally the Broadway Hotel, was laid in 1857 prior to the formal onset of the Civil War. However, escalating border skirmishes led up to the Declaration of War, and the hotel remained in an unfinished state until after the war. The foundation was boarded over and used for cavalry barns and barracks by the Union Army during the war.


The Broadway was not initially prosperous. Kersey Coates purchased the hotel in 1870 and operated it on the site until his death in 1887. It was a strategic move as his self-named Opera House was diagonally across the street at 10th and Broadway. Owning both the hotel and the upscale stage theater did much to catalyze what would soon be called Quality Hill, given the number of the city’s wealthy that would come to call the area home.


In 1888, Coates’ widow and family demolished the old structure and erected the “New Coates House.” It was as opulent as any in New York or Chicago, complete with a marble staircase, a florist shop and Turkish Baths available for hotel guests. The new hotel was much larger than the original with two primary facades, one facing Broadway, the other facing 10th, bearing a parapet with the Coates House name carved into the stone. On each corner tower was a square, “onion-dome” belvedere with open balconies overlooking the Opera House and the street below. It was nicknamed the Hotel of Presidents given the number of U.S. Presidents who stopped there on official business.


The hotel remained relatively stable through the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. By the early 1960’s, however, it was primarily used as a transient hotel for the downtrodden and elderly with no better means of support. On a frigid January night in 1978, a fire broke out in a room in the south wing of the hotel. Of the 140 or so residents of the hotel, over 100 were left homeless following the blaze and 20 people were killed, mostly by jumping from the upper floors of the hotel to escape the fire. To date, it is one of the deadliest fires in the city’s history.


The next year, the Historic Kansas City Foundation purchased what was left of the building, and in 1987 a new, upscale apartment development was dedicated. In 2009, the plaque commemorating original owner Kersey Coates was returned to the building.


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.


Following the 1978 fire and restoration of the hotel, apartment dwellers in the Coates House have often told of shadowy figures of men and women wandering the hallways. Additionally, strange noises are heard, and at times, resident’s small appliances will emit a low, growling noise.

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