History and Conversion into International – 301 E. Armour
History – 301 E. Armour Blvd
The structure at 301 East Armour Blvd may have just looked like a dated office building in 2015, but the location has a rich history, as well as a bright future. The original owners of the 301 E. Armour Boulevard property date back to 1904. J. Logan Jones, alongside his brother, Lawrence, owned several successful dry goods stores in Kansas. They are widely known for their construction of the seven-story Jones Dry Goods Company in Kansas City at 6th and Main in 1895. The brothers were quite prosperous, as was seen in the success of the store and Jones’ role within the community as a commercial as well as the civic leader. Perhaps you may know them for the founding of their once popular retail store: The Jones Store.
Jones decided to build his home on one of the most lavish streets in Kansas City at the time, Armour Boulevard. The house was designed by architect Charles Smith and, according to a Kansas City Star article published on July 31, 1904, “The large lot on which Mr. Jones’ new home will stand is well covered with native forest trees, including scaly bark hickory, black walnut, sycamore, elm, white oak, hackberry and blackthorn. The contour of the ground is such as will admit a sunken garden in the rear. The plans include a large, roomy stable built of stone to conform to the general outlines of the residence.”
The Kansas City Star went on to write, “The main features of the first floor will be the living and dining rooms, 18×28 feet and 15×23 feet respectively. They will have real old English oak beamed ceilings with wood panels and cornice and wainscoting and will be equipped with brick fireplaces that will be large enough to take in full-size cordwood.”
However, despite the evident success of the brothers, they could not avoid the consequences of the economic “Panic of 1907.” This economic crisis hit the Jones Dry Goods Store hard, resulting in both the selling of the business and Jones’ 301 E. Armour Boulevard home.
The property was thus sold to Bishop Thomas Francis Lillis in 1911 as an episcopal residence. In the year 1921, Lillis was host to the World War I military leaders from Europe, following their dedication of the Liberty Memorial located in downtown Kansas City. The Liberty Memorial dedication & after-gathering was the first and last time the Supreme Allied Commanders were all together in one place. Lillis occupied the home until his death in 1938. At this point in time, Bishop Edwin O’hara moved into the home until 1943. Five years later, in 1948, O’Hara had the idea to turn the stone home into the Catholic Community Library and thus the library was born. The library held 15,000 books “embodying the Christian way of life,” and also served as an educational hub, as lectures and classes were held within the walls of the building.
The library remained for eleven years, until the year 1959. This marks the year when the 301 E. Armour Boulevard home/library was replaced by a building much more familiar to the community today: a 6 story commercial structure.
The newly constructed building was nicknamed the “zebra building” due to the vertical black and white stripes of its exterior. Likewise, the interior of the building incorporates mid-century modern elements that reinforce the character of the exterior architecture. In 1980, the exterior received a bit of a facelift from designers, Don Distler and John Lawrence Daw. The two men went on to receive an award for their work.
Throughout the years that followed, this building housed companies such as IBM, Braniff Airlines, Occidental Petroleum, and the Housing Authority. The lifespan of Braniff Airlines, a U.S. based airline and successor to Braniff International Airways, was relatively short-lived: 1983-1990. However, in 1989, just before the airline ceased all existing operations, Braniff named Kansas City, MO (MCI) a primary hub for its business dealings. Prior to 301 E. Armour Blvd being obtained by Mac Properties, ReDsicover Mental Health occupied the space for a relatively short period of time. ReDiscover was an agency that offered treatment options for both inpatient and outpatient substance abusers located in the midtown area.
In 2013, Mac Properties hired Helix Architecture and Centric Projects to transform the space into the mixed-use development nestled into the historic span that is Armour Boulevard. The redesign and renovation of the 100,000-square-foot building will include commercial tenants on the two lower floors, and 56 luxury apartments for rent on the four upper floors.
The Renovation – Gillham Plaza to International
The renovated apartments, which are on schedule for their Grand Opening on July 21st, have been named International. The name International stems from a combination of elements within the building’s rich history. The first reason relates back to when the newly constructed building housed IBM (International Business Machines), its original occupant back in the 1960’s. If you flip the new IBM logo vertically, it has a resemblance to the two-tone theme of the building. In fact, one might say the entire façade looks like a bar code pattern, which IBM played a key role in the invention. The second reason relates back to the architecture of the building. The structure is representative of the International Style, the prevalent modernist movement in this period. Due to advances in technology and fabrication, the style strips away architectural detail in favor of revealing pure forms and correlating relationships between interior space planning and facade design through solid and void articulation.
The Windows & Balconies:
The first major change was to replace the old vertical black glass with new windows that are more transparent and allow the building to glow with activity and show occupancy at night. They are also more energy efficient than the original windows. The 2nd change was to add inset balconies on the north and south elevations.
International’s new glass puts off different colors throughout the day depending on what light is reflecting. The greenish glass above is made opaque to cover the edge of the slab at each floor level. This is called spandrel glass and you cannot see through it from the outside. The tall rectangles are the primary vision windows at eye level from each apartment. They should appear the most neutral because there is nothing behind it.
After the windows were removed, construction blew open the front, as well as gutted the entire interior of the building.
The commercial base of the building, particularly the second floor, was stripped of virtually all brick masonry and replaced with a sleek wall of glass. This defines the commercial office space, but also makes the upper floors appear to be floating above a glass base. The panoramic views from the office space are fantastic due to the continuous window line. Having retail along Armour is something that was dramatically needed. The interior, at one point, was solely concrete walls and floors, allowing a blank slate for the designers and architects.
After the windows were installed, the building was encased in a charcoal color tile, known as Swisspearl. From the design team, “It is a Fiber Cement Panel system manufactured by Swisspearl (in Switzerland). In the early stages of design, we struggled with the austere appearance of the original building. We were searching for ways to make a 1960s vintage office building have a residential identity that would look distinct from the commercial base on the lower two floors. The idea was to wrap the upper four residential floors in a material that appears textural, human scale, and of a muted palette – that is the Swisspearl. The charcoal color was chosen because it is monochromatic and compatible with the buff color brick and neutral gray glass.”
Parking has traditionally been a pain point for residents who live in the Hyde Park Area. The parking lot behind International could house around 300 cars and free up much of the parking congestion. Unfortunately, because the lot was previously retail, as well as not up to city codes, the residents who live in the area could not park there. After extensive renovation, the parking lot will be ready for residents to occupy later this summer. The design now matches the International style of the building and the newly installed verticle steel constraining bars give the garage a sense of security.
Info coming soon…
Update 7/1/2016: Mother Earth Coffee Co., a direct trade organic coffee company will be opening its first Kansas City location on the ground floor of International. Mother Earth deals directly with organic coffee farms globally, cutting out the usual middle man which means more money for the farmers and quality assurance for the consumers. Their location at the International will be an open, 2,200 square foot storefront.
The first thing that was realized when taking a walk through the units during the initial framing was the massive size compared to other apartments around the city. Studio’s starting at 860 sq/ft, 1 bedrooms at 942 sq/ft, and two bedrooms starting at 1230 sq/ft. The second realization was the newly created floor-to-ceiling windows that meet the 9’6 ceiling height. There is an interesting correlation between the size of these living spaces vs. the size of the living room in the original Lillis Mansion as mentioned above. The one bedroom living spaces are 16″ x 25 and two bedroom living spaces are 18×25.
The Final Home
Each unit will have quartz countertops, stainless appliances, modern pendant lights, glass backsplash, soft-closing drawers, balconies available, luxury laminate wood flooring, in-unit laundry, and central HVAC. The building itself will also include a fitness room, yoga room, 24/7 emergency maintenance, access to the pool, and Google Fiber throughout.
We feel this project really completes the wide range of options to fit any KC renter’s needs in our neighborhood of apartments at Mac Properties. From simple and clean, to historic and modern, and now to luxurious and spacious. There was an old theme song for IBM and the chorus repeated the phrase “Ever Onward”. We feel the area of Midtown Kansas City will keep pushing ever onward and we are happy to be a part of it.
Visit our International Floorplans and Pricing post to see all of your pricing and layout options.
We are also planning a Grand Opening Open House event July 21st. Click HERE for details on the Grand Opening!
You can call 816-844-3599 to set up an appointment to view the property with a leasing agent.