An unobtrusive, battered building is an Art Deco jewel.

It’s easy to pass right by this unassuming two-story building without giving it a second-thought—or look. It sits humbly at the intersection of Main Street and Westport Road. There’s really no good reason to move your eyes past the locksmith shop and check cashing store that make up the street-level retail. But you should.

Known as the Southwell Building (3941 Main St., KCMO), it is one of KC’s most impressive examples of Art Deco exterior design. Unlike KC’s more well-known Art Deco buildings, such as City Hall or the Power and Light Building, the Southwell structure does not take up the better part of a city block or soar into the sky, but its intricate second-floor edifice is dramatic and unusual enough that it deserves not only a look but also some admiration. 

While the first floor’s outer walls are fitted with clean, simple marble slabs, the second floor is covered in elaborate painted Art Deco terracotta tiles in peachy hues, highlighting the tile’s different shapes and design. Unusual geometric light fixtures adorn the roofline and, at night, drench the sidewalk below in light.

The 1929 structure was commissioned by George Southwell, a musician and composer of band music, for his burgeoning music publishing company, and it was built by Kansas City architecture firm McKecknie and Trask. Originally, it housed Southwell’s company offices and presses. Although Southwell’s story is relatively unknown now, his music publishing company was very successful during the early 1900s.

Southwell, who was originally from Wellington, Kansas, moved to Kansas City for more opportunities. As a composer, he began publishing original sheet music and music lesson books that were shipped across the country and world. It was said, in a 1920 Kansas City Star article, that every band performing in an American small town bandstand was probably playing a Southwell piece.

Now, many know the building as the former home of the 1970s-era Falcon Club bar, which became Harling’s Falcon Club in 1980 and a few years after that became Harling’s Upstairs, which closed nearly 10 years ago.  

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