No Smell, No Pity

I often wondered what causes people to become upset about a closing of a business, but be completely unmoved by other closings or downsizing. Is it the history, nostalgia or tradition? Job losses, growing unemployment, shrinking tax base? The answer most likely is the smell, which probably explains all the commotion around the closing of the Folgers plant downtown. Folgers is not the first Kansas City or Downtown company to close, but other businesses quietly drifted away into oblivion without Facebook support groups and Twitter followers. It must be the smell of coffee…

One of the downtown businesses that is still around but way past its former glory is the AT&T Long Lines building at 1425 Oak. It still serves as a long-distance hub for the Kansas City area, but there are only few people left working there, down from over 1,700 who were employed in call centers and various business departments, as well as the training facility, cafeteria and whatever else made the biggest phone company in the world ring. Every long-distance phone call made in Kansas City went through this building. Built in several stages and completed in the 70’s it was an example of a secure, earthquake- and explosion-proof architecture of the Cold War years. Inside were the technological marvels still impressive to this day; the phone company led the technological progress from the invention of the transistor, to the TV transmissions, communication satellites, and computing.

Yet when the calling centers were closing and the people were let go, no one shed a tear. The shareholders probably received a nice payout.

AT&T stockholder meeting. 1959. © Time. Yale Joel

Nowadays, not too many people walk on these rugs.

Granite-lined lobby is empty.

The bells are still in the floor but not in the company logo any longer.

Once-thriving market for the microchip-themed wallpaper is long-gone.

No one is taking a break in the cafeteria.

No one is enjoying the view.

Lonely scales remembers the times before the obesity epidemic…

…and the Oak Street Deli no longer serves thousands of meals a week.

Built-for-the-ages door springs are not getting a workout…

…and there is no need for the old light fixture to be on.

No one is calling “Dottie”…

…and a mailbox is collecting nothing but dust.

Retired carrier pigeons who used to deliver messages to the far-flung places like Wellington,MO are still hanging around in the building.

This building is full of history and pride, and the calls that went trough these switches and cables reunited many people in times of happiness and trouble; it stands as a reminder of the time when a long-distance call was an event, albeit pricey, but still a something to remember.

The old Long Lines building still had its last laugh, it shows up in many photographs towering over the Sprint Center for a little free publicity.

Maybe it’s a better legacy than a worthless Facebook group.