Living Design

21c Kansas City:
Hotel or Gallery? Let’s Just Say Both.

When the founders of 21c Museum Hotels visited the historic Savoy Hotel and Grill building in downtown Kansas City, a vision for its revitalization started forming. Like a majority of 21c’s properties, this building presented an opportunity to restore a piece of the city’s history and introduce a venue entirely unique to other offerings in the market. Our team worked in collaboration with design architect Deborah Berke Partners to bring a renewed purpose to this Kansas City icon.

Originally designed by S.E. Chamberlain, Van Brunt and Howe, the Savoy Hotel was built in 1888. A 7-story expansion in 1903 introduced the Savoy Grill. Since that time, the hotel and grill have been longest consistently-running hotel and restaurant west of the Mississippi River, and were known as a favorite for multiple past presidents. A plaque marking Harry Truman’s favorite booth in the original grill remains intact.

The building’s condition and design presented multiple challenges. The electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems were replaced, structural issues required the roof to be reinforced, and steel columns were either reinforced or replaced. Exterior work included repairing deteriorating sandstone, replacing the atrium roof with a new skylight, and rebuilding the ornate copper cornice.

The renovation commanded a delicate balance between introducing more modern amenities in line with a contemporary hotel, and honoring the life and story of the building’s historic spaces and elements. The historic plaster, stain glass dome, and original mosaic tile floor in the lobby and gallery were all restored and greet visitors as they enter the hotel. In guest rooms, turn-of-the-century porcelain vessel sinks that were saved and re-enameled offer a piece of the hotel’s history with its modern amenities.

In places where new design interventions were integrated, the details were purposefully left minimal to allow the historic context to shine, as well as create a simple backdrop for the art installations 21c is known and loved for. The material palette in many of the spaces focuses on bespoke details, rich materials and saturated colors.

Arguably the main event of the historic preservation is The Savoy’s bar. Originally the Savoy Grill, this space was reimagined as a lounge, and many of the historical elements were unchanged, including the Edward J. Holslag murals of the old Santa Fe Trail journey from Westport Landing to New Mexico. The lounge has been compared to a time capsule, with the original dark wood wainscoting restored, stained glass windows, dark green subway tile, chairs from the Savoy Hotel’s barber shop, carved oak bar and original booth seating.

Throughout the renovation, the guest experience was a steady driver of design decisions. Aside from the 120 guest rooms, amenities include multiple exhibitions and four private galleries for events, a full-service restaurant adjacent to The Savoy, a rooftop terrace connected to the 21c Suite, a fitness center inside a 60-foot-tall glass covered atrium, and a ballroom that can host up to 150 guests. Like all 21c properties, the Kansas City location is as much a space for the public as it is hotel guests. Twice a week, the hotel offers free docent tours of the main contemporary art exhibition spaces.