During the darkest days of the Great Depression in Kansas City, there were still people buying Cadillacs, the luxury car line of General Motors. In fact, local dealer Robert C. Greenlease, who bought his first Cadillac franchise in 1908, sold the automobiles faster than the Detroit manufacturer could deliver them to his showroom.
The current occupant of the fifth-floor penthouse—a more recent addition to the 98-year-old Greenlease Cadillac Lofts building at 2929 McGee Trafficway—tells the story of his mother’s family taking the train from Lee’s Summit to Union Station and walking east to Gilham Road just to look at the shiny new automobiles, all parked on expensive Persian carpets, through the street-level windows of the Greenlease Cadillac showroom.
“When there was no money to do anything during the Depression,” he says, “window shopping cost nothing and gave them lots to talk about.”
There haven’t been Cadillacs inside this brick building for decades: Hallmark owned the structure for many years as a storage facility, which may be the reason that the building wasn’t ultimately razed and remained virtually intact. The former showroom, now a fitness facility, still boasts the original tile floors installed in 1918, marble wainscoting and the massive columns, each adorned with the distinctive Cadillac crest (based on the coat of arms of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French founder of the city of Detroit).
The Greenlease building was meant to last. Each of the four original floors served a specific purpose, and an elevator carried the cars up to the service department. After a local developer purchased the building from Hallmark in 2004, the original upper floors were converted into spacious condominiums; the two penthouse units were added later and were initially offered as ready-for-build-out. “The sheetrock stage,” says the penthouse owner, who designed his home as a light-filled three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath apartment with an outdoor patio tightly wrapped by 112 arborvitae trees.
It’s a grand, flowing space with high ceilings and, in keeping with the Cadillac legacy, luxurious touches: a kitchen island topped with honed Carrara marble (as large as a small theater stage), top-of-the line appliances (including two Monogram wine refrigerators—one for reds, the other for white vintages) and an equally well-outfitted patio kitchen with a sleek, professional quality Dacor grill.
The table in the adjoining dining room easily seats ten—or more—for special occasions, while a trio of Mike Savage paintings mirrors the Tuscan-inspired landscaping of the patio.
The condominium’s owner—who owns an impressive collection of art and fine photography—is particularly proud of the 12 framed 1925 plat maps of Kansas City, which include the Greenlease building. Another historical tribute, used as a more untraditional artwork, is a rusted World War I-era sewer cover, elegantly incised, which the penthouse owner pulled out of a trash dumpster and installed, like a piece of contemporary art, over the fireplace mantel in his cozy den.
There are curved walls and rooms with unexpected dimensions in this roomy penthouse: “I didn’t want a series of rectangle boxes,” the owner says. “This home has an identity all its own.”
The owner’s inspiration for the finished penthouse was “New York Modern of the 1920s” to reflect the time period of the original building as well as the style for urban car dealerships in the years before World War II before dealerships began moving to the suburbs.
“At the time the Cadillac building was built, it was considered modern, simple and elegant,” he says.
He does not, by the way, drive a Cadillac.
“But someone in the building does,” says the penthouse owner.