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Kansas City's Historic Hyde Park

  Home arrow Articles arrow Gillham Road arrow Will the real Hyde Park please stand up? (Approximately 1977)

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Will the real Hyde Park please stand up? (Approximately 1977) | Print |

From Western Historic Missouri Collection of Kansas City

Barring any late entries, there are three legitimate contenders for the title, Hyde Park. In 1886, the Hyde Park subdivision was platted roughly from Linwood Blvd. To 39th street, Broadway to Gillham Road. Until J.C. Nichols built his Country Club residential district in the 1920’s, this was the largest planned development of single-family homes in Kansas City. When the Hyde park subdivision was platted, a nine acre grassy gully between McGee & Oak (today, the north & south bound lanes of Gillham Road, 36th to 38th streets0 was included but never sold. The land was purchased for use as a private country club and in 1902 was acquired by the Parks Department and named, of course, Hyde Park. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association is a creature of the modern era. It was formed in 1969 by residents in the area from 31st to 46th streets, Gillham Road to Troost who were concerned with maintaining their old neighborhood as a good place to live.

With due acknowledgement to the historic Hyde Park subdivision west of Gillham Road, this booklet will deal with the contemporary boundaries of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and the park that is its namesake. More specifically, attention will be focused on the area from Armour Boulevard to 39th street, known informally as “central Hyde Park. ”This portion of the neighborhood contains the most impressive homes and was designated by the City Council of Kansas City to participate in a major neighborhood conservation program.

Many of the features of Hyde Park are as recognizable today as they were 75 years ago while others have vanished as completely as if they never existed. At the turn-of-the-century, the main streets bounding the area were Oak (Gillham Road), Commonwealth (Armour Boulevard), Troost Avenue and Chicago Avenue (39th street). The nearest streetcar line reached only as far east as Main Street. Genteel residents made us e of the tennis, croquet, and archery facilities at the Hyde Park Country Club, predecessor of the Kansas City Country Club. Located until 1896 in the present-day park between the lanes of Gillham road, the Country Club had introduced golf to the area with a nine-hole course just to the east. Because of members’ complaints, the Westport city council was persuaded to pass a herd law to keep cows off the greens.

Several springs flowed from the rock outcroppings on the west and south edges of the neighborhood and joined Harris Creek, that originated at 30th street and flowed southward beside Oak street and then Hyde Park and continued in the valleys now occupied by Harrison Parkway and Gillham Road to Brush Creek. The outlines of Cave Spring can still be seen below Charlotte at Gleed Terrace. The latter street followed the line of the Santa Fe Trail as it approached Westport, and Cave Spring was a favorite watering spot for weary travelers. Walled-up to prevent injury to inquisitive youngsters, the entrance was graded over in 1906 with the completion of Charlotte. Chicago Avenue stopped on either side of present-day Gillham because there was no way to ford Harris Creek in the valley.

Hyde Park was greatly affected by the land boom of the 1880’s and annexation intrigues of the 1890’s. Seven additional subdivisions were platted in frantic succession from 1886-88 with such sterling names as Nicolett Place, Edna Place, Hampden Place and Regents Park. Fantastic speculation drove up land prices until the bottom dropped out in 1888 and development effectively halted for the next ten years. In 1891, the city of Westport annexed land east to Locust in order to create a sewer benefit district, and in 1896 it extended its Eastern limit to Troost for the same purpose. The following year, residents of Westport voted overwhelmingly in favor of annexation by Kansas City, fro history shows that a great number of the affluent owners of businesses in Kansas City lived in Westport.

Those people had been attracted to Hyde Park and southward to 45th street by the comfortable and in summer much cooler “suburban” living it afforded. Thirty years later, the Kansas City Star reported on that era as follows: “The usual diversion following the dining hour in warm months was to sit on the front porch in swings and rocking chairs, and the proximity of neighbors enabled pleasant chats to be carried on with no effort.” Carriage houses kept both buggies and servants, and kitchens were often the plainest rooms of the house because the owners spent so little time there. A list of early residents reads like a “Who’s Who of the period: Arthur Stilwell, Fred Harvey, Arthur Fels, Elmer Powell, Louis Oppenstein, and Jo Zack Miller to name a few.

Arthur Stilwell, founder of the MK&T Trust Company and the Kansas City southern Railroad, and his vice-president had built two imposing homes on Humboldt (36th street) in 1892, one of which still stands on the northeast corner of 36th & Cherry. Although his trust company was committed to building modest homes, Stilwell envisioned a residential development for the ’best families” spreading from his doorstep through the woodlands to the south. With that motivation, he purchased all the lots between Cherry and Kenwood, Humboldt to about the line of the old Santa Fe Trail. In 1897, he platted Janssen Place, named for his Dutch friend and business associate, August Janssen.

Stone columns of white Arkansas limestone surrounded by a flower garden framed the entrance to Janssen Place and the 32 lots measuring 75 by 250 feet faced a double drive with landscaped median on a 100-foot right-of-way. The drive was designed as private street and modeled after Portland Place and Westmoreland Place in St. Louis. Two houses were built n 1900, a third in 1905 and others, thereafter, from 1907 until the last of the 19 original houses was completed in 1917. So many of the initial owners were timber barons that Janssen Place was for a time known as “lumbermen’s row.”

In the late teens and twenties, fashionable apartment hotels were built along Armour Boulevard in one of the highest concentrations outside of the downtown area. The Georgian Court, at Armour & Gillham contained only 24 units in the nine stories, and each 7 to 9 room suite rented for $375 per month in 1920.

In 1927, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion opened their school for the daughters of the area’s elite families. From their building on Sion Hill, the sisters pursued their unique mission of fostering understanding among different faiths. By the end of the Second World War, a profound change had occurred in the area. Many of the original owners had died or moved to newer “quality” addresses, and the large homes began to be converted into apartments and sleeping rooms. The neighborhood began a long, slow decline that continued unchecked until the 1970’s.

Over the past three years, dramatic changes have taken place. Through a city-sponsored, neighborhood conservation program, over 1/2 million dollars in public improvements have been made such as tree planting and pruning, park landscaping, a brown brick-pattern sidewalk along Harrison Parkway, entry markers currently being designed, and replacement of all substandard curbs and sidewalks with property owners sharing the costs. A city housing inspection program was requested by the residents and a great deal of home repair is underway. The result of this public and private investment and attendant publicity has been a rediscovery of the neighborhood. Many homes have been sold to young families, property values are increasing, but most importantly, new and old residents alike feel a new sense of hope for the future. As in the days of buggies and bustles, Hyde Park and indeed most of the Westport area is once-again becoming a special place to live.
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