Paved With Good Intentions: The Jackson County Plan of 1932

  In my long professional life, I’ve created all sorts of plans for all sorts of groups. Plans are great – done well, they’re a roadmap. What I haven’t done often– or even seen often – is a report on what happened once the plan was done. The reason is simple – plans are seldom executed. Jackson County’s 1932 Results of County Planning is a plan that not only was executed, but boldly celebrated its accomplishments. During a period coincident with the Great Depression, Jackson County planned and built a new system of roads and highways – streets that today…

Camp Nichols – Soldiers, Sinners and Spies in World War I Kansas City

It’s official. The long-anticipated commemoration of America’s involvement in World War II has begun. I avoid the word “celebration” intentionally, because no one in their right mind finds much about war to celebrate. I’ll grant, though, that here in Kansas City, we might be forgiven some displays that seem celebratory. A lot of our iconic identity has been tied around Liberty Memorial since it was first proposed in 1919, shortly after the war ended. With the recent revival and expansion of the impressive World War I Museum, the city is eager to share these landmarks with…

The Refugee’s Story, 1942

Recently, I have found myself reflecting on a story I included in my book, “The Waldo Story: Home of Friendly Merchants.” The focus of the chapter is the Gillis Home, which has been doing good work with children and families for more than a century, most of that time at its site near 81st and Wornall Road. The story that has stayed with me in Gillis’ history is the story of an eleven-year-old Spanish boy named Arsenio who escaped the war in Europe in 1942 by entering into the refugee orphanage system in the United States, and eventually…

The Art of the Sale: The Retail Dogma of J.C. Nichols

In 1933, J.C. Nichols circulated mimeographed copies of his list “Don’ts for Salespeople” among his Country Club Plaza tenants, to be shared with their employees. The list is a microcosm of Nichols most defining characteristics. He was hands-on with every aspect of his vast, vertically integrated real estate empire, and no detail was too small to warrant his personal attention. His personal philosophy guided his relationships in business and he continually drummed those sensibilities into everyone who worked for him. And like many who have big ideas and like to be hands on, his writings are all…

From Madness to Murder – The Uhls Sanitarium Continued

The fact that while researching J.C. Nichols and the Country Club District I tripped over the story of the Uhls Sanitarium (December 5, 2017) was a perfect example of “getting into the weeds,” one of the many ways I find I can drift from my immediate goal when doing research for my writing. Another is “the pursuit of the next great thing,” your next big writing project. You mark up the time spent on this tangent as an investment in your writing future. Most turn out to be crushing disappointments when you get to the…

Lost in a Sanitarium

Research is a treacherous business. It’s so easy to get lost. Easy, because there are so many ways to get lost. The first part of this story is an example of one kind of getting off track, specifically getting “into the weeds.” When I get into the weeds, it means I’m now looking at a level of detail that will never make it into the piece I’m working on, but still I have to keep going, because you never know, right? It’s so damn interesting, I just can’t help myself. The trouble is, now that…

Excerpt: The Country Club District of Kansas City

Tucked within the heart of Kansas City is the legacy of one of the grand experiments of American city planning. These acres upon acres of lovely homes built in the early years of the twentieth century are really a model of community building of national historical significance. There are gateways and city limits signs that mark the names of the communities within this acreage, but there is nothing that marks the name of this historical district. It is there nonetheless, and it is Kansas City’s Country Club District. The vision and lifelong project of J.C. Nichols, whose eponymous…