Little Bits of History

July 17

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 17, 2017

1981: The Hyatt Regency Kansas City hosts a tea dance which ends in tragedy. The Hyatt opened on July 1, 1980 and at 40 stories high was the tallest building in the state of Missouri. It lost that status in 1986 and is today the sixth tallest building in the state. It is, today, even taller at 45 stories and is now Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. Opening was delayed because of an incident on October 14, 1979 when 2,700 square feet of the atrium roof collapsed as a result of a failure of the connections at the northern end. Repairs were made, construction continued, and the hotel opened. One of the features of the building was a multistory high atrium which was spanned by elevated walkways suspended from the ceiling.

The walkways were made of steel, concrete, and glass and connected the second, third, and fourth floors between the north and south wings. Each was about 120 feet long and weighed about 32 tons. The fourth floor was directly above the second floor with the intermediate floor offset. On this day there were approximately 1,600 people gathered for a tea dance. People were positioned above, looking down on the atrium. There were about 40 people on the second level and even more on the third. There were about 18 on the fourth floor level. Construction difficulties had subtly altered the design. This flaw doubled the load on the connection between the fourth floor walkway support beams and the tie rods carrying the weight of both aligned walkways.

Because of the way it was built, it was barely able to support the dead load weight of the structure itself and the added load of about forty people was more than the connectors could maintain. At 7.05 PM, the fourth floor walkway broke free, crashed into the second floor walkway before both landed on the floor of the atrium. There were 111 dead at the scene and three more would die at the hospital. There were 216 more people suffering non-fatal injuries. Rescue efforts took 14 hours and involved 34 fire trucks and EMS units along with doctors from five area hospitals. Survivors were buried beneath over 60 tons of debris. To add to the confusion, the hotel’s sprinkler system was severed and the atrium was flooded, putting trapped people at risk of drowning.

Investigations into the tragedy revealed the change to the original design for the walkways. Part of the alterations were due to manufacturing issues of the beams. Instead, it was decided to suspend the second floor walkway from the fourth floor itself rather than as originally designed. This was a fatal error. The engineers who approved the final drawing, Jack D Gillum and Associates were found guilty of gross negligence, misconduct, and unprofessional conduct. They were not found to be criminally negligent. They lost their engineering licenses and their right to be an engineering firm. It was the worst structural collapse in the US until 2001 when the World Trade Center collapsed.

The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life. – George Bernard Shaw

We sat around on a hotel balcony with a bottle of wine and tried to figure out how you would go about blowing up a planet. That’s the kind of conversations science fiction writers have when they get together. We don’t talk about football or anything like that. – Kevin J. Anderson

I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. – Josephine Baker

I need something truly beautiful to look at in hotel rooms. – Vivien Leigh

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