Paved With Good Intentions: The Jackson County Plan of 1932

By KC Backstories | Jun 29, 2017 | 0 Comments

  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 make up a large part of the metro’s transit framework. It also laid the foundation for Jackson County’s extensive park and recreation system. In a beautiful photo array, Results of County Planning documented what the plan’s outcomes, while providing the future with a snapshot of county geography at an important point in time. From history’s perch, eight decades later, it also hints at the limitations of the effort, or any plan.   In 1927, growth seemed limitless. Had the movers and shakers of Kansas City and Jackson County foreseen the economic crisis a few years ahead, they might not have made grand plans. But plan they did. As local developers built new homes at fever pitch, and the chamber of commerce instituted a five-year plan for industrial expansion. Downtown attracted more than $50 million in investment, and Jackson County, under the direction of Presiding Judge Harry Truman, started planning for the county’s future highway needs, in order to “open up Jackson County to its fullest possibilities.” By 1932, the first phase of Jackson County’s work was done, prompting the publication of Results of County Planning – part pitch-book, part travelogue, and part pictorial love letter to the County’s most prominent citizens and beloved institutions. Each page presents beautiful black and white photos of landmark points throughout Jackson County, arranged in a one-lap ambling tour that begins in downtown Kansas City, then heads east to Independence and roughly follows a clockwise path that concludes at the old Watts Mill site at 103rd and State Line.  “Sound reasoning gave basis to a two-fold plan which (1) pledged a system of highways that would make every section of the county accessible to the public, and (2) the eventual development of rivers, parks and other recreational places for public benefit.” This quote from the book’s front pages assure the reader that all this work was based on “sound reasoning,” while a few pages later, the book declares the plan to be “based on practical needs; it was carried out along practical lines; its effect will be for the practical benefit of every citizen!” No restatement of findings here, although there is a fold-out map in the back showing which roads were improved, and a slim account of the lengths of pavement completed (more than 200 miles). As a side note, N.T. Veatch, Jr. (Black & Veatch founding partner) was the project engineer, so the plan was likely well done. Still, in terms of evidence that effort matched need, the reader must take a leap of faith. Instead, the book lets the pictures tell the story – at least 200 of them, artistically laid across 110 of the book’s 122 pages. Nearly every nook and cranny in Jackson County is represented, highlighting some of the county’s best vistas, most impressive farms, and oldest institutions. The geography shown in these photos is almost unrecognizable. They show the large swaths of open land between Kansas City and all the little outlying cities. There are no clues which of these towns would grow into their own. Grandview looks like Greenwood, Lee’s Summit seems no bigger than Levasy. Pictures of Blue Springs and Buckner could be interchangeable. The county’s industry seems lively and productive, but today the Sugar Creek refinery is closed, aptly named Cement City sits overgrown by the train tracks, and the only thing left of the brickyard near Knobtown is a road that bears its name. “Leaving behind the hum and bustle of industrial Kansas City, every Jackson County highway leads through peaceful hills. Within a few moments by motor car, the city resident can find restful surroundings. County Planning has enabled every citizen to enjoy the county’s advantages to the utmost!” (and later…) “It is such rich farm territory as this that Jackson County’s new plan of highways has opened up to the traveler and for the farmer.” The report simply stated what motivated the need for a plan. “The court had inherited a road fund deficit…largely the result of an antiquated highway system whose upkeep was exhorbitant [sic] and a drain on the treasury.” Here is revealed the publication’s primary purpose. All that investment in gravel, asphalt and concrete was made to increase the county’s tax base by attracting new visitors, residents, businesses and farms. The connection was logical. Many of the images in Results of County Planning show the large rural estates of Kansas City’s business leaders. E.F. Swinney, then head of 1st National Bank, had a large Hereford breeding farm near Lee’s Summit Road and Highway 40. Building a fortune through lumber yards, Herman Dierks had a “farm-place” with “modern improvements” in the Little Blue Valley. Even William Rockhill Nelson had an “experimental farm,” near Grain Valley, for the sole support of experiments in the breeding of better livestock. “Jackson County, keenly responsible to a great metropolitan population, has always given first thought to its wards and dependents – particularly to the youth which asked only the chance it deserved.” By now, most of these large tracts of farmland have been plowed under for development. The Drumm farm is one of the few that remain, though it was a different sort of farm. Andrew Drumm made his wealth buying and selling cattle. The fortune he left established a working farm home “orphaned and impoverished boys,” to nurture their character and provide them with skills. Although the mission has changed slightly, the farm remains today, albeit surrounded by Independence neighborhoods. Other charitable organizations are well represented in the book. Given that many of them were owned and operated by Jackson County, they are logical inclusions. But today it’s rare to see such institutions displayed as points of pride. Consider the following institutions as they are mentioned in the book: The Parental Home (Noland Road) – “in a fine suburban atmosphere of peace and quiet, delinquent and dependent girls, wards of the county are given the opportunity they so urgently need.” The McCune Home for Boys (Highway 24) – “where corrective measure are used to reclaim boyish waywardness. Dependent children, as well, are given new opportunities.” The County Hospital and its Home for the Aged (near Raytown) – “institutions of kindliness which seek to care for the aged and the sick as befits their needs.” The Jackson County homes for “aged negroes, negro boys and negro girls” – “all in pleasant surroundings.” “[Results of County Planning] is only the first step in an all embracing plan of giving Jackson County its deserved opportunity to live up to its possibilities. Coming days will see advantageous development of the Big Blue River, the Little Blue and Sni-a-Bar Creek. Likewise, the development of parks and recreation grounds at points easily available to all of the county population – the healthful places of diversion that every large and growing population needs for its own pleasure and for the sake of coming generations.” The County had already developed some parks, beginning in 1922 with Hayes Park.  In 1927, the county had approximately 32 acres in parks. Today it has more than 21,000, making Jackson County’s parks system the third largest in the nation. But it would be more than twenty years before the county lake phase of the plan was implemented, with Lake Jacomo in 1959. Another decade passed before the county completed a major park system study, and another two decades before that plan was in 1986. Thumbing through the pages, it’s hard to miss the irony. If the plan was successful, all those visitors, residents and businesses the book was courting would obliterate all those beautiful vistas. Even though it’s been 80 years, it’s still surprising to see how much has changed, and realize some of the wonderful features that have been lost. But the truth is, with or without a plan, time would have erased much of what Results of County Planning has preserved. That Jackson County had the foresight to do such planning in 1927, and to actually implement that, has probably preserved and venerated more than it changed.   Sources: Results of County Planning, Jackson County, Missouri. Kansas City, Mo., Produced by Holland Engraving Co., 1933. Jackson County Parks & Rec website, http://www.makeyourdayhere.com/247/History. The Drumm Farm Center for Children website, http://www.drummforkids.org/who-we-are/our-history/.

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

By KC Backstories | Apr 14, 2017 | 0 Comments

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 world. It’s a sure bet that we all will be learning a lot about America’s and Kansas City’s involvement in World War I over the next 18 months or so. We’ll hear tales heroic, tragic and inspiring. But I’m going to kick things off here with a typical KC Backstory, a small and curious story of Kansas City during the “war to end all wars.”   By 1916, the Third Missouri Infantry had been mustering in and out of service since the Spanish-American War, most recently for a brief stint as part of Pershing’s forces during the Mexican Revolution. In March 25, 1917, just six months after returning from the Mexican border, a new Presidential order mobilized them at Kansas City, assigned to guard the city’s transportation infrastructure. These were events ramping up toward the US involvement in Europe. But the Third Missouri apparently lacked for a camp site, because shortly after they were mobilized, J.C. Nichols set aside a few acres of his property where they could bivouac. The spot became known as Camp Nichols. To date, I have located only one map that vaguely locates the spot, the well-known cartographic map of the Country Club District, a 1930 promotional map more illustrative than navigational. The map depicts the cartoon images of a doughboy facing a finger-pointing superior. Nichols Company records don’t offer much, but suggest the camp was within the two blocks immediately south of Meyer Boulevard and east of Ward Parkway. The Nichols Company records do include two photos of the site, included here. The life of Camp Nichols was brief. There are few references to Camp Nichols in publication or online, but two items give a tiny peek into Kansas City life as America entered the war. The first mention appears in a work on the origins of military intelligence, which the author dates to 1917. In one of the first attempts to use law enforcement as a means of gathering intelligence information “in the field,” a former detective assigned to Camp Nichols after enlistment volunteered to turn spy on local “socialist activities.” “On July 16, 1917, an army lieutenant at Camp Nichols in Kansas City had been invited, by virtue of his previous work as a police detective in that city, to accompany local authorities on a raid of the meeting hall of the Agricultural Workers Organization, a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).” Some revolvers, what appeared to be “burglary tools” and some organizational records were confiscated, “which resulted in a $100 fine for each of the ten radicals arrested and their expulsion from the city.” This was a minor raid, and – reading between the lines – perhaps no more than the personal preoccupation of the anonymous lieutenant. In sharing his experience of the raid, he adds his personal observations stemming from 1913, when he arrested more than four hundred people whom he referred to as “these so-called Industrial Workers.” He went on to say, “Ninety-five percent of their members are foreign born, being the off-scouring of the entire world – anarchists at heart. They defy law and order and are against any form of government,” while the remainder he described as “thieves, thugs, highwaymen, burglars, murderers and ex-convicts.” The second mention of Camp Nichols appears in a short article in the December 8, 1917 issue of The Survey, the leading social welfare magazine of the day. Under the title, “Camps and Saloons in Kansas City,” the report bestows a dubious distinction on Camp Nichols. Kansas City, so the article relates, was a good example of the problems facing the War Department with respect to the moral character of its soldiers, those problems being liquor and prostitution. In that context, the article relates (without citing sources) that… “…formerly there was located in Kansas City a temporary camp, Camp Nichols, in which the percentage of venereal disease was high.” Sadly, The Survey article doesn’t also rank Camp Nichols on the intoxication levels of its soldiers. But between the spying and the prostitution, it stands to reason there were plenty of reasons to drink. And what of the soldiers of the Third Missouri Infantry? In October 1917, the Regiment moved to Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, and went on to participate in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of World War I (10 months) and one of the costliest in history. Of the 1,700 who went to Europe with the “Old Third,” only 600 returned.   Sources: Edwards, Evan A. From Doniphan to Verdun: The Official History of the 140th Infantry. Lawrence, KS: The World Company, 1920. Talbert, Roy Jr. Negative Intelligence: The Army and the American Left 1917-1941. Jackson & London: University of Mississippi Press, 1991. “Camps and Saloons in Kansas City.” The Survey: A Journal of Social Exploration. Volume XXXIX, October 1917 – March 1918: page 294.

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The Refugee’s Story, 1942

By KC Backstories | Mar 8, 2017 | 0 Comments

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 arriving at Gillis. The story was documented because Arsenio wrote the Gillis Home more than fifty years after he left in 1944. Gillis had the good sense to keep the letter, and the generosity to share it with me. Arsenio spent only two years at Gillis before finally, on his third attempt, finding a permanent adoptive home in New York State. But his memories of that time are specific and plentiful. I’ll share some of my favorites here, but what makes this story even more moving and meaningful to me today than it did when I first heard it, are Arsenio’s recollections of the small kindnesses he was given as a non-English speaking refugee, and what those meant to him at such a vulnerable time in his life. Speaking of his school experience, Arsenio wrote, “I was in awe of the affluent life style of which I had become a part. Rather than the slates I wrote on with chalk in Spain or France, I was given paper tablets and several pencils, pencils that could be sharpened with a small hand crank-operated device at the front of the room. I had new text and work books – they cracked when first opened at the start of the school each September. They were mine and could be taken to the orphanage if I chose.” Gillis may have been Arsenio’s first chance to prove himself as a child. “An elderly lady was the cook at Gillis and each evening she made out a list of the groceries needed the following day. It was the responsibility of one of the boys to get the groceries from the storeroom. The job rotated every week. The task was never carried out to the cook’s satisfaction. When the job fell to me she had found her grocery boy. I knew how to operate the scales, was careful not to deliver beets when she asked for beans, put away the cart and made sure the storeroom door was locked. Most importantly, I could read her wavery [sic] handwriting. So I became the permanent grocery boy and the week’s allowance was increased a dime. At the movies I could buy popcorn with double butter.” Arsenio directly benefited from the charity of the broader Kansas City community. In this memory, the two names he mentions were children that had come with him all the way from Spain to Gillis. “Sometimes on weekends two Jewish ladies dressed from head to toe in black (driving a black car) would come to Gillis and take Maruja, Esteban and me for an outing. They would drive us to the sights of the city, visit parks, to the airport where we could watch the airplanes take off and land and usually to a restaurant or their home and there fed sumptuously. Sadly, we could not communicate with them in English nor could they with us in either French or Castilian. The memory of these ladies in black who briefly were a small part of our lives and for so many years forgotten, now brings a smile and a tear.” Arsenio reminds me that principles and politics are not just the purview of adults. Recalling how social workers understandably placed him with a Catholic family in his first unsuccessful attempt at adoption, Arsenio wrote, “What the social workers, the American public and this well intentioned couple did not comprehend was the intensity of our hatred for the Catholic church. It was universally believed by the refugees that the Catholic church complied with and even participated in the cruel reprisals suffered by those who opposed Franco. This abhorrence of the church was reinforced daily. An eleven-year-old could not enter a church that he felt was responsible for so much suffering and even the breakup of his family.” When Arsenio was finally placed for adoption, he poignantly writes about the end of this chapter of his life. He refers to the social worker who will be accompanying him to his permanent home when he writes, “How could she know that living in groups of children since 1936 had become the norm for me, and in what was always an energized environment, that I thrived.” I believe Arsenio’s story is best summed up in what are for me, his most poignant and insightful memories – memories of belonging. “The years spent in the orphanage were the happiest of my childhood in America….It was a time when I reveled in the friendship of young boys, boys like myself who were the victims of others’ failings. Our shared lives in a pleasant setting softened the ache of severed family ties. Walking to school each morning following the trolley tracks or going to the movies together in groups and the common need of parental love, bonded us to each other as brothers and sisters bond. Light skin, dark skin, blond or brunette, all pained by circumstances not understood, all in need of friendship to assuage the hurt. Cleaning up after a taffy-pull party – the housemother observing with folded arms, attempting a stern demeanor – the children in uncontrolled hilarity feigning struggles with pots and pans – created a sense of family, of closeness, and in the summer heading to the swimming hole (following the trolley tracks!) with our arms on each other’s shoulders knowing we were brothers. Brothers not of common parents, brothers made by common loss, thrown together by chance, drawn together by mutual need.”     Source: As of 2017, the Gillis Center is now part of the larger organization, Cornerstones of Care. This occurring five years after the Waldo book was written, the contacts I had there at the time are no longer available. Regardless, while it’s true that the Gillis Center graciously shared their history, and Arsenio’s letter, with me, the real attribution should be given to Arsenio. I was never told his last name, nor where his adoption took place. I only wish I knew where he or his descendants are, so I could thank him and/or them for sharing this wonderful oral history.

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

By KC Backstories | Feb 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

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 over the place. In the transition from one sentence to the other, Nichols could go from flowery oratory to pedantic detail. And of course, the language – the vocabulary, the form and syntax – has the quaint lyricism of another era. Nichols was usually long-winded, too, so I’ve cherry-picked to create a sampling that captures all the characteristics of the Nichols’ character – the attention to detail, the business philosophy, and the paradoxical focus. Don’t wear too much jewelry – too much paint. “Why look like a night club hostess?” Don’t rattle money in your pocket…drum on the showcase…distract your customer’s mind. Don’t under rate [sic] your customer. A chauffeur or maid may influence a good many buyers. Don’t get high hat. Exclusive shops, particularly, should never get “snooty.” Don’t criticize a customer. Back fence gossip will reach the customer’s ears eventually and will kill your chances forever of selling that person or those she can influence.” Don’t express strong political, religious or social opinions until you find out how your customer feels. Smiles win friends everywhere – and a smile means the same in any language. A clerk with a sincere smile is more valuable than one with just a college degree. Neatness and orderliness of person, inconspicuous appearance, pleasant, genteel, helpful manners win the way to the heart of your customers. Learn the names of your customers, children as well as grown-ups. When you call a child by its name, you get not only its friendship but that of every member of the crowd or “gang” to which it belongs. Don’t stand like a bump on a log and wait for your customer to come to you. Go forward immediately and make evident you are anxious to be helpful. If you don’t have what your customer wants, direct or – better still – take him to one of your near neighbors. Nothing builds confidence in your shop more effectively than favorable comments on your near competitor or tears down confidence quicker than knocking him. This rings honesty. Your competitor hears of it and returns the favor by praising you to his customers. We are not Robinson Crusoes, living, [sic] on desert islands, but are living in an age of cooperation. Always offer to wrap into a single bundle the several packages your customer is carrying. Customer resents being hurried just to keep you from being obliged to work a few minutes overtime.   And finally, as someone who writes about history, this may be my favorite. Customers are always interested in new things – new styles, new shipments, new methods of manufacture. People like to feel they are getting new information. You can tell of things you have had for a while in a new and interesting manner. That really makes them new.   Source: State Historical Society of Missouri, JC Nichols Company Records

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From Madness to Murder – The Uhls Sanitarium Continued

By KC Backstories | Feb 8, 2017 | 2 Comments

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 bottom of the story. In this example, the Uhls Sanitarium building surfaced bits of a tale that did not disappoint – a tale of theft, fraud, and murder. The body of 77-year-old William Gibbs was found in his tiny home in Hutchinson, Kansas on the morning of December 30th, 1923. He had been bludgeoned to death while looking through papers that documented the old man’s wealth. Gibbs was known in town as a miser and a hermit, but believed to have a small fortune. Initial speculation was that the old man might have been robbed, until someone noticed the attacker had failed to take one of the few things in the house worth anything – Gibbs’ watch laying in open view in the box found in the kitchen that held the stock certificates. Three days later and half a state away, Louis Breyfogel, the dairyman that serviced the Uhls Sanitarium, was robbed while on his route. The robbers took $500 worth of bonds given to him for payment of the hospital’s outstanding bill, a payment he had only minutes before been given. It didn’t take long to find suspects because Breyfogel secretly followed the thieves and the path led straight to the sanitarium. The next day, Kenneth Uhls was arrested and jailed in Olathe, claiming the whole matter was a misunderstanding, that one of his patients had committed the crime, and that he returned the bonds when he found them. Kenneth (Kenn) Uhls was the son of Dr. Lyman Uhls, the founder of the Uhls Sanitarium, which opened at 75th & Metcalf in 1913. Lyman Uhls had been the superintendent of the Osawatomie State Hospital (previously called the State Insane Asylum) since 1898 prior to opening his own clinic. He had an exemplary reputation, and was even a one-time candidate for the state legislature. Kenn Uhls was not a doctor, although subsequent stories would confer that title upon him. He attended Stanford University, but finished his degree at the University of Kansas, where his only apparent distinction was as a first-class tennis player. In 1917, he married a woman from British Columbia, and joined his father at the clinic. When Lyman Uhls died in 1920, the son took over the clinic. Before his death, the senior Uhls had expanded the business considerably by selling shares in the clinic and by opening up locations throughout the state, one of which was in Hutchinson. Under Kenn Uhls’ direction, the clinic went from serving the mentally ill to the drug addicted. The documentation William Gibbs left behind confirmed that he owned more than $100,000 in Uhls Clinic stock. Within a day of Gibbs’ death, the Hutchinson paper was reporting on the murder and the robbery side by side on the front page. Sheriff Jess Langsford of Reno County (Hutchinson) contacted Olathe law enforcement, and the investigation was on. Uhls maintained he knew nothing about the robbery or the murder, and offered up “proof” that Gibbs had traded Uhls Clinic stock for other investments. The proof was quickly determined to be a forgery. Within a week, even though Sheriff Langsford had not yet said publicly that Uhls was a suspect in Gibbs’ murder, Uhls had dropped out of sight, making himself a suspect. A few days later, he resurfaced accompanied by his lawyer. By the end of January, Uhls along with two accomplices was charged with stock fraud. By the end of February Uhls and one of the two others were charged with Gibbs murder. Based on newspaper accounts, Uhls’ attempts to make a go of the sanitarium were a failure, and the stock which Gibbs had been told was worth $100,000 might have on a good day been worth $10,000. The clinic was behind in all its accounts payable. Uhls was convincing investors to sell their shares in the clinic back, in exchange for other stocks that were overvalued. The robbery incident was evidence that Uhls desperation had led him to use bonds as payment of those bills. It’s unclear whether Uhls plan was to intentionally bilk his investors, or if he was simply trying to disguise the deep hole he had dug with the clinic’s accounts.   He maintained his innocence throughout, but the testimony of neighbors who saw a man fitting his description entering Gibbs home the afternoon of the murder were too damning. By the end of the summer, Uhls was convicted and sentenced to 10 to 25 years. He served about 12 years of his sentence. In 1938 a guard accompanied him back to Kansas City so that he could visit his dying mother. Somehow, he gave the guard the slip. He was assumed to have escaped to be with his wife and child, who had returned to British Columbia. Research doesn’t reveal what happened subsequently. Or I should say, research to this point. I may get distracted by this one again.   Source: Most of the information for this article was found in copies of the Hutchinson (Kansas) Gazette and the Kansas City (Missouri) Times, archived in the subscription website, Newspapers.com.

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Lost in a Sanitarium

By KC Backstories | Dec 5, 2016 | 2 Comments

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 I’ve found this something, what do I do with it? Sure, maybe “someday,” that “something” could be really interesting. But my “someday” list is already too long. Now that I have a blog, I can share it here. I was looking through the Nichols Company scrapbooks on the trail of some information for my next book, a history of the Greenway Fields neighborhood. That, of course, had nothing to do with some pictures that caught my eye of an interesting old building that looked like it was being taken over by a jungle. The scrapbook page identifies the building as the old Uhls Sanitarium, about 20+ acres that the Nichols Company had recently purchased (this is 1932) because it “lies in the path of the greatest growth trend in Kansas City’s area.” This was 1932. J.C. knew his stuff. Having never heard of the Uhls Sanitarium, I was curious what and where this place had been. I knew better than to think anything that had stood in Johnson County in 1932 “in the path of the greatest growth trend” would be there today. That led me to the Johnson County Historical Society, which had two photos from the early 1990s of the main building, looking surprisingly the same. The info accompanying the photo tells me it was built in 1910 (I later learn that’s not exactly right, but more on that next time). It tells me that the site, at 74th and Metcalf, was also “a sanitarium” but doesn’t mention Uhls. Most interesting of all, though, is that it tells me that it is today the Kansas College & Bible School. A quick search of the school leads me to the website of Kansas Christian College, the schools current name. The school’s history tells me it bought the property in 1941. Incredibly, the school is still there at the sanitarium site on Metcalf, even if the buildings aren’t. Regardless, this is fascinating. Like I said, J.C. knew real estate. He wasn’t wrong. The area around 75th and Metcalf was, in fact, the very center of the path of Johnson County growth. Nichols bought the property in 1932 and less than a decade later, the company sold it to the school. Why? Was it the lagging development pace brought about by the Great Depression? Was it an expediency, a way to cash out and invest in other property? There are a half dozen reasons that are plausible, but the answer would require more investigation. I’ll save that for another day. Now, as to the Uhls Sanitarium, that turned out to be an even more interesting story – and an example of another way to get lost while researching. But I’ll take that up next time.   Source: In addition to the source material imbedded in the post, additional information came from copies of various Kansas newspapers, archived at the subscription website Newspapers.com.

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Excerpt: The Country Club District of Kansas City

By KC Backstories | Aug 8, 2016 | 2 Comments

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 company grew from the success of that effort, the Country Club District set national standards for residential and commercial development that were promulgated throughout the real estate industry during the first half of the twentieth century. It is true that the Country Club District was not the first of what were sometimes referred to as “garden suburban communities.” A few came before it, most notably Baltimore’s Roland. There were others like Beverly Hills that became more famous, though during its peak years between 1920 and 1940, no development in the country received more national recognition and praise than the Country Club District. And none of the others—not Roland Park, Beverly Hills or others like Shaker Heights in Cleveland, River Oaks in Houston or Forest Hills in New York—was built on such a grand scale. What began as an ambitious thousand-acre project would be, by the end, an unparalleled six thousand acres. Nor were any of the other planned residential communities actively developed for as long. The Country Club District was a project that lasted more than fifty years. From a local standpoint, few initiatives in the city’s history have had more profound an influence on the broader community than the Country Club District. The district’s history begins around 1905, some fifty years after Kansas City’s official birth, but at a time that coincides with the formative period of Kansas City’s landscape. The city’s parks and boulevards were recently laid out; its major monuments and institutions were in the planning. This book focuses almost exclusively on the Country Club District’s first fifty years, that period under the leadership of J.C. Nichols until his death in 1950. Although the company survived some fifty years after Nichols’s death, it was J.C. Nichols’s vision and ingenuity that created the Country Club District as it is today. The Country Club District lies almost exactly in the geographic heart of the Kansas City metropolis. Yet in its infancy, it was improbably beyond the bounds of the city, just open farm acres south of a tributary called Brush Creek. The area that is the focus of this history is bounded on the north by the Country Club Plaza near Forty-seventh Street along Brush Creek and to the south near Gregory Boulevard or Seventy-first Street, from about Oak Street on the east in Missouri to near Mission Road on the west in Kansas. By the time the Nichols Company ceased residential building in the 1970s, the Country Club District ran from Forty-seventh to Ninety-fifth Streets north to south and from Holmes Road in Kansas City, Missouri, on the east to Lamar Avenue in Overland Park, Kansas, on the west. This book offers a look back on the first fifty years or so of the Country Club District. It examines the district as it came into being, by focusing on the elements that are essential to understanding its character. The assessment begins with the idea itself, its creator J.C. Nichols and the company he built to make his vision a reality. Nichols’s ideas, in equal part with the lessons he learned as he went along, established the framework for the district. The second element considered is neighborhood development, providing perspective on the nuances of the housing stock Nichols’s created and how that has contributed to the district’s continued stability. Finally, the book focuses on Nichols’s recognition of the profound importance of amenities in the work of creating community, so the stories of the district’s schools and churches, its shopping centers and even its physical layout and use in various forms are included. While most of the original development remains, the Country Club District’s identity has diminished. During the period between 1905 and 1950, the Country Club District became an effective and desirable brand in an industry not previously associated with brands. Whether it was a stately mansion in Mission Hills on the north or a working-class house in Armour Hills on the south, the cachet of a Country Club District home made the district the neighborhood of choice for many generations. Today, however, other identities have subordinated that of the Country Club District. Its houses still stand, its neighborhoods remain vital and its shops are still popular. But the notion of what it meant—and means—to be a part of the Country Club District is fading. If the identity or the principles of Nichols’s Country Club District continue into an extended future, it will not be as a result of meticulous preservation of the brick and mortar work of the past. Nor should such preservation be the standard for success. The fact that the Country Club District has survived, with or without popular recognition, is both a testament to all that J.C. Nichols built and to the way in which he built it. This history is as much about recognizing the long-term thinking on which the district was built, using specific tools like fostering a sense of community, creating beauty, providing good services and building homes that would last for more than one hundred years. Nichols himself referred to this as “planning for permanence.” Continuing that commitment to a greater vision will be the ultimate test of success and the legacy of the Country Club District.

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