Montgomery Ward building displayed design achievement

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

Upon its completion in 1914, the Montgomery Ward Distribution Center in Historic Northeast Kansas City was billed as the largest building west of the Mississippi River.

Measuring a half a mile around with 47,000 panes of glass, 22 miles of iron pipe and 35 miles of electrical wire, the J.W. McKecknie-designed structure was the third Ward’s facility in Kansas City to serve the burgeoning catalog warehouse operation.

Aaron Montgomery Ward quickly outgrew his Chicago warehouse and in 1904 established a Midwest distribution at 15th and Liberty streets in the West Bottoms. In 1907, Ward’s expanded again and constructed a new warehouse at 19th and Campbell streets. That building now operates as the Tension Envelope Company. In June 1913, a deal was struck for Ward’s to purchase a 22-acre tract of land at the eastern terminus of the St. John Avenue streetcar line at St. John and Belmont avenues. A $750,000 Bond was let, and noted architect J. W. McKecknie was hired to design the structure.

McKecknie was fast developing a reputation as a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete construction, and the new Ward’s building was to be one of his commercial design capstones. The Missouri Engineering and Construction Company was charged with the excavation of the property and employed more than 200 men, 75 mule teams and myriad of heavy construction equipment capable of moving more than 97,000 cubic yards of earth in order to prepare the grounds. The Wells Construction Company then employed more than 1,000 men in construction of the building itself.
When construction of the imposing edifice was completed in the summer of 1914, it was one of the most technologically advanced buildings of its time. Railcars delivered coal to the center of the U-shaped building and dumped directly in to a grate under the tracks that fed the huge boilers. The largest boiler in the building was fed not by coal, but by all the flammable waste sucked up by workers with vacuum cleaners. The building was equipped with its own post office, a hospital staffed by on-site doctors and surgeons, a barbershop, library, smoking room and a large parlor for company dances and activities.

In 1928, a retail store was added to the facility, and the company re-routed the St. John streetcar to turn around on the property at its southwest corner. In 1964, the facility was remodeled again, parking structures were added to the south and a walkway was constructed across St. John Avenue. At its peak during the 1960s, the structure occupied a total of 44 acres and employed more than 3,000 people.
The photo of the construction phase was provided by Kansas City Fire Department Historian Ray Elder and is part of the Val B. Mintin collection. Additional information provided by local historian Brad Finch.

Comments are closed.

  • Norman School: A proud testament to Historic Preservation

    August 15th, 2018
    by

    Norman School in the 3500 block of Jefferson was built in 1898 by John Perry, Principal of the Keith & […]


    Those were some postcards! (And that’s no exaggeration)

    August 8th, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News William H. “Dad” Martin of Ottawa, Kan., is considered to be the father of the exaggerated […]


    Paseo Boulevard Sunken Gardens

    July 31st, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News Over the Memorial Day holiday of 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Kansas City as a guest […]


    Kansas City’s first fire fighters honored

    July 25th, 2018
    by

      Michael Bushnell Northeast News In March 1867, the Missouri Legislature granted permission to allow Kansas City to organize an […]


    All aboard for railroad’s Golden Age

    July 18th, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News The old Union Depot went out with a wild party in the fall of 1914, when […]


  • Big Eleven Lake – an Urban Oasis

    July 11th, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News In continuing with our 7-11 themed issue for July 11th, we offer this Max Bernstein-published Linen-type […]


    Stars and Stripes lore

    July 4th, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News During the American Revolution, a number of patriots made flags for our new nation. Among them […]


    Roadside America nostalgia: A look at Route 66

    June 27th, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News A small signpost that bears the number “1933” in downtown Chicago near the intersection of Lake […]


    The Standard of Luxury

    June 20th, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News What was once the shining gem in the newly developed Executive Park area of Kansas City’s […]


    Swirling flood waters inundate city in 1951

    June 13th, 2018
    by

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News Making the floods of 1903 and 1908 seem insignificant in comparison, the flood of 1951 was […]


  • What’s Happening

    Proposed library levy increase would benefit North-East branch

    By Paul Thompson Northeast News The North-East branch of the Kansas City Public Library system would be a primary benefactor […]

    Frontier Schools: Summer Solar Car Challenge

    retorts illustrated by bryan stalder

  • Local Weather