Kansas City's Historic Hyde Park

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In the mid-1880's real estate speculation in Kansas City reached near-hysterical proportions. Land south of the city, extending to the town of Westport, three miles distant, was sold and resold at fantastic profits. Among the subdivisions platted in 1886 was one called Hyde Park located midway between the two cities.

The originally Hyde Park subdivision was located west of Gillham Road, outside the present day boundaries of the Hyde Park neighborhood. To the east of Gillham Road, Kenwood, Hampden Place, and several smaller subdivisions were also laid out. 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.

Between Hyde Park and the eastern subdivisions, lay a ravine down which ran a small creek, and to the south ran the old Independence-Westport wagon road used by Santa Fe and Oregon Trail travelers. The nine acre grassy gully between McGee and Oak was included but never sold. The land was purchased for use as a private country club . Genteel residents made use of the tennis, croquet, and archery facilities at the Hyde Park Country Club. The Club introduced golf to the area with a nine-hole course to the east. Because of members' complaints, the Westport city council was persuaded to pass a herd law to keep cows off the greens. Kenwood Place and the adjacent plats were gridded without regard to the natural, rolling topography. Streets ran east-west; north-south.

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. Although the first houses were built in late 1880's, less than 50 houses had been erected by 1900. However, by 1907, when the market had recovered, this number had increased more than five times.

In 1891 part of the area was annexed by the City of Westport which in turn was taken into Kansas City six years later. For many years this entire area was known generally as "Hyde Park" without reference to the specific subdivisions. Later the application shifted eastward until the term today only refers to the area east of the original Hyde Park subdivision.

Architectural styles are predominately of three kinds: modifications of Colonial revival in brick, stone, and occasionally all-frame; the Kansas City "Shirtwaist" Style house with stone or brick lower story and frame upper, often with a bellcast gable roof; and bungalows. Other styles represented are Victorian Romanesque, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, and Prairie School Style.

The Kansas City parks department acquired the land for Gillham Road from 31st to 46th Street in 1903. The road from 31st to 45th Streets was completed in 1907 and the section from 45th to the Paseo in 1908. Gillham Road, which includes Harrison Parkway, is a parkway of varying width, from 75 feet to 500 feet, and irregular outline, extending over hill and through valley. The original plans called for a very complete playground south of 39th Street, a wading and casting pool, tennis courts, baseball and athletic field being already under operation. Chicago Avenue, 39th Street, stopped on either side of present-day Gillham because there was no way to ford Harris Creek in the valley.

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 and Gillham contained only 24 units in its nine stories, and each seven to nine room suite rented for $375 per month in 1920.

In 1927, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion moved their school for the daughters of the area's elite families to 3823 Locust Street. The new four-story brick building housed pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school complete with swimming pool and gymnasium. Classes like history, science, and math were taught in English, but almost everything else, including fine needlework, penmanship, and play-time, was in French.

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 larger communities with newer addresses of quality. The large old homes were converted into apartments and sleeping rooms. The neighborhood began a long, slow decline which continued unchecked until the 1970's.

Since then, dramatic changes have taken place. An estimated one-third of the houses changed hands between 1975 and 1977. Extensive public and private investment and attendant publicity has rejuvenated the neighborhood. Almost all the houses have been converted back to single family and once again the neighborhood has become a special place to live. Today the brass fixtures are shining, the leaded glass is sparkling, and the woodwork is glowing.

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