By Diane Euston
Kansas City’s story of residential development is tied directly to the growth of our metropolis, and each area of the city holds a unique key to the past. One midtown neighborhood nestled between the bustle of downtown and the Plaza has direct connections to the city’s evolution away from city living and into subdivisions.
The historic Hyde Park neighborhood, which loosely stretches from 31st Street south to 47th Street, Gillham Rd. to Troost Ave., includes over 1,500 homes and apartments which tell, in some ways, the evolution of homebuilding in Kansas City. Due to this area’s unique history, this stretch of neighborhood includes everything from Victorian homes to Craftsman homes; it showcases Colonial Revival and the unique Kansas City shirtwaist style of architecture.
The Hyde Park neighborhood tells us the story of progression and recession – a story which encompasses the city as a whole as it worked to replace other well-established neighborhoods as the elite place to be. And, on October 1, six places in the neighborhood will open up their doors and offer the opportunity to see this unique architecture at the Hyde Parks Homes Tour.
Before the Bust- The Move East
Prior to the platting of the numerous subdivisions which make up the Hyde Park neighborhood, the premier neighborhoods in the 1880s included Quality Hill, Gladstone Blvd. and Troost Ave.
Quality Hill was settled prior to the Civil War on a 200-foot-high bluff overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers on the west side of downtown. When the stately brick mansions were first built, the view looking west was spectacular; however, as the railroad moved in and the stockyards expanded in the West Bottoms, the view – and the smell- was less than desirable.
Gladstone Blvd. was developed on the east side of Kansas City north of Independence Ave. The mansions covering this impressive stretch of the boulevard system expanded with the development of the parks.
Between 24th St. and Linwood Blvd, Troost Ave. quickly became a neighborhood which housed some of the richest residents in the city. This stretch on the east side of the city became known as “Millionaire’s Row” because of the gargantuan homes that were built.
As the population increased, city planners really thought that Kansas City was moving east. The stockyard growth and the meatpacking industry, spawned by the success of the railroad, created an influx of development in the city.
Kansas City’s housing market moved too fast. Houses surrounding Millionaire’s Row on Troost Ave. were built fast in the 1880s and were much smaller than the mansions which made the area so special.
Imagining Hyde Park
Truly, no one thought Kansas City would move south. But, the arrival of cable cars in 1887 made it possibly for Kansas City to grow in all directions.
The cost of land on the east side was too expensive. By the mid-1880s, the land boom Kansas City was experiencing was so hot that properties were oftentimes traded multiple times per day for a hefty profit. Some savvy businessmen were willing to take a bit of a gamble and look for land for a “new Quality Hill.”
Charles F. Morse (1839-1926) is rarely mentioned in the history of Kansas City, yet his role as a civic leader, businessman and real estate developer should not be missed. Born in Massachusetts, Morse attended Harvard University and then entered the Union Army during the Civil War, even seeing action at the Battle of Gettysburg.
After the war, he moved west to work in the railroad business. In 1879, he landed in Kansas City and worked as general manager of the Kansas City Stockyards Company. He settled with his family in the Quality Hill neighborhood at a stately home at 810 Pennsylvania.
Within a short amount of time, Charles Morse built the stockyards up to be the busiest in the entire nation after Chicago, and he employed over 25,000 people in the city.
In 1885, Morse became Kansas City’s “behind the scenes promoter” when he looked around for land to expand a new Quality Hill neighborhood. One year later, he purchased land west of current-day Gillham Rd. and located between Westport and Kansas City. He called it “Hyde Park.” Kansas City only stretched south to 31st St. at the time.
Morse hired Frank J. Baird as a developer and Henry Van Brunt to design “a series of tasteful mansions” for his new Quality Hill. But there was a small problem near this new, elite development.
An old natural spring which had been utilized on the Santa Fe Trail was a feature in a hollow on the land. Due to lack of zoning laws and the inability to keep people from building shacks in less-than-desirable land, this “narrow, two-block-long patch of ground, with its steep slopes, limestone outcroppings, and thick tangle of undergrowth frightened the real estate investors.”
They sought to beautify the grounds, and they looked to a then-unknown landscape architect named George Kessler (1862-1923) to make this narrow two block long patch of ground into something special.
Kessler had come to the area just years before, and this was his first commission in Kansas City. He used the natural beauty of the land and added walkways, seating and shrubs. What was once an eyesore became a beautiful, private park- known as Hyde Park- with a high fence surrounding it. This design allowed Kessler to show his tremendous talent and led him to becoming the leading architect of the City Beautiful Movement in Kansas City.
To set an example, Charles F. Morse moved his family into an impressive mansion on two and a half acres at 36th and Warwick in 1887. It would take some time, but soon others including Kirkland Armour and Henry Van Brunt would follow Morse to the south. Between 1886 and 1888, subdivisions such as Hampden Place, Regents Park and Kenwood began building large homes near Hyde Park.
Immediately south of Hyde Park, William Rockhill Nelson purchased 10 acres of land in 1886 between current-day 44th and 47th Streets from Oak to Cherry. Over four years, Nelson built Oak Hall and slowly purchased land surrounding his mansion.
But, a real estate bust would quickly slow the market in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Real estate bottomed out in 1888- there were too many houses especially on the east side for sale. Development in the area quickly stopped for some time. Before the bust, less than 35 houses had been built in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Stepping Toward Southern Growth
The real estate market slowing down didn’t stop William Rockhill Nelson from platting Southmoreland in 1890 in the heart of today’s art district. Nelson was able to convince his good friend and “father of the parks and boulevard system” August Meyer to move south to his new subdivision. In 1896, Meyer and his family moved from 2806 Independence Ave., once the richest area of the city, to an eight-and-a-half acre estate designed by the architectural firm Van Brunt and Howe. This stunning, three-story, 35-room Queen Anne mansion made of brick and stone featured a grand staircase and entrance hall.
The move of these prominent men to the south solidified Kansas City’s future. Hyde Park was back in business.
By 1897, the city’s southern boundary moved to 49th Street and the town of Westport was annexed to Kansas City. The recovery of the market allowed for many wealthy residents to reconsider their home addresses. Developers began building homes that were slightly smaller in size than originally planned, but they still fit with the overall aesthetic of the area.
The first private street built in Kansas City was inside Janssen Place, developed by Arthur E. Stillwell, a railroad capitalist. He named the subdivision after August Janssen, a Dutch businessman who had financially backed the Kansas City Southern Railway.
The private street featured 32 large lots leading to a cul-de-sac in the heart of Hyde Park. This was a new concept for a subdivision, and the plan for the entrance of Janssen Place in 1897 was a sight to see. “The design for the entrance,” the Kansas City Star wrote, “which will be built of white limestone, is purely classic and is the work of G.W. Matthews. It is entirely original in detail and is perhaps handsomer than any similar one in St. Louis.”
Modeled after Portland and Westmoreland Place in the Central West End in St. Louis, built in 1888, the entrance to Janssen Place featured “two carriage ways 18 feet wide” and a 40-foot-wide island through the private street. Nothing less than $10,000 was to be built in Janssen Place.
The subdivision became known as “Lumberman’s Row” due to the number of lumber businessmen (seven in total) who chose Janssen Place as their home.
In 1898, the City Beautiful Movement followed south when the Parks Board began planning a “southern highway” through the area. Originally called “High Cherry Street” and renamed Gillham St., the street was planned to curve through the Hyde Park neighborhood and connect it to the north.
The road was named after Robert Gillham (1854-1899). Born in New York, Gillham studied engineering and came to Kansas City in 1878. He worked his way up to president of the Kansas City Cable Railway System, the company responsible for building the 9th Street Incline in 1885.
Gillham was central to promoting the parks and boulevard system and served on the Board of Park Commissioners from 1895 until his death.
“Everybody concedes the actual grandeur of Gladstone Boulevard. It is almost a Roman highway in its impressiveness,” the Star wrote in 1898. “But the new South Road, or highway, promises to be greater than Gladstone Boulevard. The South Road will be a tribute to Kansas City’s topography.”
Today, Gillham Rd. is a primary access point from 22nd St. all the way to approximately 45th St., effectively connecting the southern growth to the north.
The growth of the Hyde Park neighborhood solidified the south as the new place to build. In 1887, 75 percent of the wealthiest residents in Kansas City lived in Quality Hill, but by 1900, the number fell to 42 percent. By 1915, only two percent of the city’s elite were still located in the once-posh Quality Hill neighborhood.
Historian James R. Shortridge wrote, “More than a quarter of the city’s business and social elite lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood in 1901, and nearly two-thirds resided there in 1915.”
Hyde Park Homes Open for Tours
The Hyde Park neighborhood thrived until after World War II when growth moved even further to the south. Many of the large, stately homes were turned into apartments to accommodate the shift in the neighborhood. However, it wasn’t hard for Kansas Citians to see the nostalgia and beauty of these homes.
In the late 1970s, approximately one-third of these homes changed hands as new life was breathed into the neighborhood. The Hyde Park Homes Association was formed in 1969 and incorporated in 1974.
In 1980, Central Hyde Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hyde Park East and West districts were added in 2004, and South Hyde Park was added to the Register in 2007.
Some homes that once were landmarks didn’t make it to revitalization. As Notre Dame de Sion grew in 1912 from a French kindergarten into a thriving grade school, the school purchased the Charles F. Morse mansion at 200 E. 36th St. and later purchased the Kirkland Armour mansion at Warwick and Armour Boulevards, built in 1896.
In 1939, the school tore down the Morse home and razed the Armour mansion in the 1950s. It was replaced with a building occupied by Standard Oil Company.
Fortunately, most of the Hyde Park neighborhood maintains its charm, and six of these unique buildings are open to the public for their annual homes tour Saturday, October 1 from 10am to 6pm. For $20, people can take a step back in time and see how some of Kansas City’s residents have worked to preserve these beautiful homes built at the turn of the last century. They will have designated parking at several locations where you can catch a climate controlled shuttle bus and visit each stop on the tour.
Some of the places featured in the homes tour include a beautifully restored Kansas City shirtwaist built in 1900 and formerly the site of Rockingham Academy. Located at 4343 Campbell, this 14-room boarding house harbored “difficult” girls was the home of Joan Crawford from 1919 to 1922.
Also featured is 2 Janssen Place, built in 1905 by lumberman John Henry Tschudy and carefully restored by its current owners. The house utilizes 11 different woods, including mahogany, white oak, cherry, walnut and bird’s-eye maple, in its interior. The parlor, including an ornate fireplace, has been decorated and used as the front of a Hallmark Christmas card in the past.
It is said that “Janssen Place remains one of the most beautiful developments in Kansas City.” A quick drive through the neighborhood, nestled under an umbrella of trees and beautifully maintained by its current owners, makes this statement hard to argue.
A full list of the six places on the homes tour as well as online purchase of tickets can be found at www.hydeparkkc.org. Tickets can also be purchased at Pilgrim Chapel, 3801 Gillham Rd., the day of the event.
The unique history of the Hyde Park neighborhood tells the story of the city’s movement to the south, and the delay of development led to many different styles of architecture that we can admire today. Whether a Victorian brick, a Kansas City shirtwaist or a Craftsman, the Hyde Park neighborhood has been preserved and protected so we can enjoy its beauty for years to come.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.