For a long time, if you got on a certain elevator at Hallmark headquarters, there was an extra button at the top labeled “PH.” You needed a key to get into the Hallmark penthouse. You’d probably never been there, but knew someone who had: They reported only that the decor was retro-tastic.
Now the space has been re-purposed and (mostly) redecorated as a meeting space, and renamed the Executive Conference Center. It’s still fabulous, but sounds a little less swanky and alluring than “The Penthouse.” So we were thrilled when Hallmark Historian Samantha B. gave us a peek into what was a mid-century modern showcase. Here’s what she shared with us.
A high-rise guest house for famous friends
Hallmark founder J.C. Hall made friends with the best-known artists, writers, celebrities, and politicians of his time. Many visited headquarters regularly, and to better accommodate them, J.C. built the Hallmark penthouse.
Opened five years after Hallmark relocated to our current headquarters, the penthouse accommodated hundreds of guests from 1961 to 1977. The first was President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the last was actor Ed Asner; in between, J.C. welcomed Walt Disney, Henry Dreyfuss, Charles and Ray Eames, Bob Hope, Yousuf Karsh, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Saul Steinberg, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Hermann Zapf.
[Editor’s note: The guest register may be the 20th century’s most impressive, eclectic autograph book.]
Custom decor by Alexander Girard
When local architecture firm Marshall and Brown completed the penthouse in 1961, it featured a conference room, garden, living-dining area, study, small kitchen and serving bar, five bathrooms, and six bedrooms.
Alexander Girard, head of the Herman Miller Textiles Division, designed the interior. He custom-made much of the decor, including a wool rug woven in Morocco as the focal point in the conference room; accessories from door handles to curtains to a water fountain; and upholstered furniture throughout. He also incorporated antiques, items from Hallmark’s collection, and iconic Saarinen and Eames designs.
Girard started his design for the Hallmark penthouse with whites—white walls, white tile, white plaster ceiling, white marble and formica—then layered on solids and patterns in earth tones, metallics, and rich woods. He showcased Italian, French, and American paintings from the international Hallmark Art Awards. And he created a 40-foot 3D mural full of antique cards and ephemera from Hallmark’s collection.
J.C. used the central space in the Hallmark penthouse as a meeting room, but kept things friendly and informal—there were couches and chairs, but no conference table.
Because the conference room was located in the interior of the penthouse, there were no windows. Instead, a retractable skylight over a Venetian glass reflecting pool brought the outdoors in.
[Editor’s note: Ashtrays as accessories—everywhere. Hard to imagine today.]
Girard designed the seven-tiered water fountain, and Teodora Blanco created the sculptures.
Modern, practical touches around every corner
Girard’s designs weren’t all for show: Thoughtful, practical choices made the penthouse convenient for business-minded guests and the maintenance team.
You could draw curtains and partitions to separate spaces. Or hide the television and stereo in the wall when it was important to be distraction-free. Desks and night stands featured push-button conveniences and plug-ins for “telephones and dictating machines.” Tables hung on walls or were built into sofas, cords hid behind walls and in furniture, and beds were upholstered—both for a clean look and to make vacuuming easier.
[Editor’s note: Twin beds only. We assume this was to keep people focused on business.]
Living spaces with views of the city
The 10th floor view from the Hallmark penthouse gave visitors a breathtaking look at Kansas City through 4,000 square feet of floor-to-ceiling tinted windows.
But to anyone with an appreciation for modern design, the inside was equally impressive. Girard’s designs were, according to a 1963 issue of Interiors magazine, “gentle, restful, rich, inviting.”
The same year, Interior Design said, “In these rooms, Girard’s attention to the details of interior design is exemplary. The functions of the spaces have been worked out so thoroughly in advance that no extraneous element mars the intended visual effect.”
[Editor’s note: We were about to say exactly the same thing.]
[Editor’s note: Of course, you can’t see the dramatic skyline here because curtains. We assume it was awesome.]
The Hallmark penthouse today
So, what happened to all the cool stuff? We asked Samantha.
She tells us that over the past 56 years, the penthouse has been remodeled several times and the layout has changed. But a few of Girard’s original designs remain, including a desk, night stands, dressers, and a bar made of Formica and teak; three Knoll Associates chairs, and two upholstered beds. And the Moroccan rug, some paper objects Girard designed, and Eames/Herman Miller chairs all have a home in our Archives. The 40-foot greeting card mural is displayed in our headquarters.
All images courtesy of the Hallmark Archives.