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This former Kansas City building was completed in 1917 and funded by successful druggist Joseph Wirthman. Originally the site of Wirthman’s private residence, when the commercial district along Troost began growing, he replaced the home with a two-story structure. The iconic Isis Theatre was part of the complex and opened in August 1918. The theater operated until 1970. In 1922, three stories were added to the Wirthman Building, which created office spaces, one of which housed Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-gram Studio for a short time. A few businesses continued to occupy the building until its demolition in 1997. 


The Wirthman Building and Isis Theatre c. 1940. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.

Isis Theatre

The Wirthman Building was built in 1917 as a two-story building. The Isis Theatre opened in 1918 and the top three floors were added in 1922.Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.

Wirthman Building, Isis Theatre

The Wirthman Building was built with extravagant features, prompting the nickname for the Isis Theatre "The Irresistible." Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.

Isis Theatre lobby

Owner of the Wirthman Building Joseph Wirthman (left) with Jack Rieger (right). Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.

Wirthman, Rieger

Mansions of the wealthiest Kansas City residents once lined Troost Avenue from 31st to 34th Street, becoming known as "Millionaire's Row".

Millionaire's Row

Sanborn Fire Map volume 3 (1896-1907) shows large homes lining Troost Avenue. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.

Rectangle, Font, Pattern, Parallel

Sanborn Fire Map volume 4 (1909-1950) shows the once-bustling Troost Avenue district. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library.

Property, Product, Map, Rectangle

In the early 1900s, drug store owner and city councilman Joseph C. Wirthman moved to a lavish home on 31st Street and Troost Avenue. At the time, this area housed some of the wealthiest residents of Kansas City, and Troost was lined with mansions from 31st to 34th Streets, which led to the nickname “Millionaire's Row.” An economic depression in the late 1890s sparked by concerns about the stability of banks, known as the "Panic of 1893," affected the economy of Kansas City and other growing communities. In Kansas City, housing prices dropped, and some homeowners fled west toward the state line to newly developed neighborhoods. As a result, less affluent families moved into this area, and some of the grander buildings were either demolished owing to the cost of maintenance or simply subdivided into apartments. The entire city was experiencing a population surge, and by the late 1920s, Troost Avenue had become the center of minority-owned commerce and social activity. This area became highly desired by African American families and some recent immigrants with new schools, churches, banks, retail shops, theaters, and the last stop of the streetcar. 

Wirthman did not anticipate the rapid changes of the area and in 1917, he demolished his home to build a commercial building. Originally designed to be six stories, the two-story building appeared monumental, constructed using Egyptian style architectural elements. The most notable tenant of the Wirthman Building was the Isis Theater, which opened on August 21, 1918. Storefronts ran along 31st Street, and by 1920, the building housed Louise W. Winter Millinery Shop; Mary Lane Dry Goods; the Humfeld-Orear Floral Company; Dinty Moore’s Restaurant; the Baldwin Piano Store; the Isis Cafeteria, in the basement; and Monkey Steam Dye Works. Three floors were added in 1922, and in addition to the street level shops, the expansion of the Wirthman Building offered office space, generally for doctors and dentists. In June 1923, Walt Disney moved his struggling Laugh-O-gram Films studio here but filed bankruptcy in July and left Kansas City. 

The Troost Avenue commercial district experienced a decline during the Great Depression. Due to restrictive covenants and poor lending practices to people of color, Troost became a racial and economic dividing line, and white-owned businesses and families abandoned the area. The city redrew school district boundaries following the ruling in Brown v. Board, which ended explicit racial segregation, with Troost marking the dividing line of many area school districts. Many of the white families left in the neighborhood moved west, and the social and economic divide greatly affected businesses. The diminishing audiences of the once popular Isis Theatre resulted in its becoming an adult film theater in 1968 and closing in 1970. Some businesses continued to occupy the Wirthman Building, but occupancy rates declined, and the entire structure was razed in 1997. Today, this location is the site of a busy public bus stop. A mural fills the side of the building next door and honors the culture once experienced here. 

Do you Remember the Wirthman Building and the Isis Theater?, Midtown KC Post. October 26th 2015. Accessed April 6th 2022. http://midtownkcpost.com/do-you-remember-the-wirthman-building-and-the-isis-theater/.

Troost Avenue, Kansas City Public Library. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://kchistory.org/image/troost-avenue-7.

O'higgins, Briana. How Troost Became a Major Divide in Kansas City, NPR. March 27th 2014. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://www.kcur.org/community/2014-03-27/how-troost-became-a-major-divide-in-kansas-city.

Viets, Dan. Burnes, Brian. Walt Disney's Missouri: The Roots of a Creative Genius. Edition Illustrated. Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City Star Books, 2002.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

https://kchistory.org/image/isis-theater

https://kchistory.org/image/isis-theater-1

https://kchistory.org/image/isis-theater-2

https://kchistory.org/image/joseph-wirthman-and-jack-rieger

http://midtownkcpost.com/midtown-millionaires-row-31st-troost/

https://kchistory.org/image/sanborn-map-kansas-city-vol-3-1896-1907-page-p323

https://kchistory.org/image/sanborn-map-kansas-city-vol-4-1909-1950-page-p465