Thoroughly modern courthouse


Michael Bushnell
Northeast News
This linen postcard showing north and west sides of what at the time was the new Jackson County Courthouse at the intersection of 12th and Oak streets was published by R.B. Harness Greeting Card Company of Kansas City, Mo., and printed by E. C. Kropp, Milwaukee. It is card No. 37 in a series.
Kansas City was probably one of the few cities in the country that didn’t suffer too much during the Great Depression. With a strong political boss in place who ruled over everything from the Police Department to government contracts, Kansas City literally boomed with new municipal projects that employed thousands of workers under the guise of economic stimulus.
That political boss was Tom Pendergast, owner of the Ready Mixed Concrete Company and the T. J. Pendergast Liquor Distributing Company. His concrete company was one of the first in the nation to deliver pre-mixed concrete to the job site via trucks with rotating mixers, much like we see today. His concrete was used in a number of construction projects in town, including the “Pendergast Pyramids” downtown. Tom’s “pyramids” are the present-day City Hall, its sister building across the street to the south, the Jackson County Courthouse, Police Headquarters at 11th and Locust streets and Municipal Auditorium at 13th and Central streets. Pendergast was also instrumental in the paving of Brush Creek in 1935. The project employed more than 1,500 workers, who lay a stretch of concrete almost a mile long, 70 feet wide at a thickness of 8-10 inches. The total cost was an estimated $1.39 million.
The description on the back of the postcard reads: “The facilities in this new courthouse are entirely modernized to the extent, for example, of changing the courtrooms to place the judge in the corner of the room, the witness in the center position and the jury close to the witness stand with an arrangement of seats making a tier of the jury box rather than two long rows affording the jurors a better opportunity to see and hear the witnesses.”
Dedicated in December 1934, this structure replaced the first county courthouse downtown originally built at Missouri and Locust streets in 1888. It was built by Kansas City-based Swenson Construction Company, another Pendergast-friendly outfit that received contracts for the construction of the federal building, City Hall, the Scottish Rite Temple on Linwood Street and the Power & Light Building.
Interestingly, this building was the site of the first and only hanging in 1937 when Dudley “Hardface” Barr was hanged on the 15th floor of the courthouse for the murder of an insurance policy writer. An old state law actually allowed local executions to be overseen by the county sheriff. In 1937, the Missouri General Assembly changed the law dictating executions be conducted in the gas chamber at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City.

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