Mural Mystery: Crews renovating old school buildings make quite a find depicting early KC history

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Earlier this month, Kansas City Public School District finalized the sale of Westport High School near 39th and Main, and developers have big plans for its future, but in the process of renovating the building, crews made a shocking discovery.

A group called Sustainable Development Partners bought Westport High school and Westport Middle School right across the street. They're turning the buildings into a giant co-working space for entrepreneurs who don't have an office.

As crews were renovating the building they made quite a find, a large mural depicting the early history of Kansas City.

The mural is believed to have been painted by art students in the 1940s and may also be linked to famous Kansas City painter, Thomas Hart Benton, who lived just blocks away.

Because the buildings were built in 1923, the architect and designers of the innovative project knew they would uncover pieces of the past, but they say they never dreamed of nothing so extravagant.

"It was an incredible find, and we immediately knew we needed to restore this, retain this," Plexpod CEO Gerald Smith said.

Nearly 70-years old, and titled, "The History of Kansas City," it begins with the Native Americans and ends in the late 1940s when the city skyline was just taking shape. At that time, the room housed an art class for students at Kansas City Junior College. The teacher, Mary Moulton, almost certainly knew the famous Thomas Hart Benton.

“Kansas City was a much smaller city at that time, and Thomas Hart Benton's home is just a few blocks west of here,” Smith said.

Benton also taught at the Kansas City Art Institute. His influential style is undeniably repeated on the old walls.

"One of the pleasures of my life was meeting Thomas Hart Benton, and when I saw this mural I thought, ‘Oh my God what did he have to do with this,’” architect Bob Berkabile said. “I wish I had known it was in existence when I had met him."

Plexpod's challenge is to hold onto the history here, while looking to the future. The co-working extravaganza will feature work spaces alongside, a giant theater, entertainment and fitness areas. This room that overlooks the city will become a conference space designed to wow today's entrepreneurs

“People will be in this room creating a new future for KC surrounded and informed by our past,” Berkabile said.

The best clues to the creation of the mural exist in the 14 tiny signatures inside each panel, but so far they've produced no leads.

“We have reached out to contact some of the students named and they had just passed away months before,” Smith said.

Based on an old picture, builders suspect there is at least one more mural, possibly in the room next door.

“Surely there is somebody that is a family member that may have heard the story of this room,” Smith said.

If you have any information that might shed some light on the mystery of the mural, email INFO@PLEXPOD.COM.



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