The congregation of the Independence Boulevard Christian Church (IBCC) was established in 1886 and by the turn of the 20th century, its expanding membership was quickly outgrowing the original church building near present day Sixth and Prospect Avenue. In 1902, one of the congregants, philanthropist and lumberman Robert Alexander Long purchased a lot at 2900 Independence Boulevard for $10,000 as the site for a new church building. Long pledged roughly $70,000 of the $125,000 for half of the construction costs.
Long hired the nationally renowned architectural firm of Howe, Hoit and Cutler to design the new building. By that time, the firm was already a well-known commodity in Kansas City, having designed a number of downtown buildings, as well as homes for some of Kansas City’s most prominent residents.
Constructed primarily of Bedford Bluff Limestone, IBCC’s design is pure Grecian style that features two north facing gables that resemble classic Greek temples, supported by massive limestone columns topped with ionic capitals.
Inside, the circular sanctuary seats roughly 1,200 people and features a balcony around three sides. The pews were hewn from solid Philippine mahogany and were placed on wall-to-wall carpeting. A lighted dome rises over the sanctuary floor. The magnificent structure was completed in September 1905.
Dr. John A. Brooke was the first pastor and served five years. He was succeeded by Rev. George H. Coombs, whose son later married Robert and Ella Long’s daughter Loula. The growing congregation sought additional space and a three-story education wing was added in 1909 at a cost of roughly $175,000, most of which was financed by Mr. Long. The new wing doubled the size of the first floor fellowship hall. The second and third floors included classroom space, a prayer chapel, library and pastor’s study, the famous “salt-box” gym and a swimming pool. The pool was filled in 1947 and converted to classroom space.
Some called it the R.A. Long church because the wealthy lumberman had contributed heavily to its growth and construction.
The magnificent Casavant organ, built in Quebec, Canada by the Casavant Frères Organ Company over a three-year period at a cost of $175,000, has 67 ranks, 3,731 pipes, six divisions, four manuals, 53 stops and 56 registers. It was dedicated in 1968, replacing the original Austin Organ, installed in 1910, which consisted of 53 ranks, 3,619 pipes, six divisions, four manuals, 51 stops and 66 registers.
The carillon, not shown in this Max Bernstein Postcard was constructed in 1919 in a large tower over the education wing and consists of eleven bells, the smallest of which weighs in at 575 pounds.
In recent years, the stately dome over the sanctuary has been restored to its original shimmering white and the organ has undergone a complete renovation and restoration as well. In 2015 the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Independence Boulevard Christian Church remains active in the Historic Northeast community today and offers a number of outreach programs to the surrounding neighborhoods. The church also houses a new private school, the Ryogoku Soccer Academy, a school that combines athletics and education for an all-encompassing education experience.