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KC News Features / William Worley
Published 07/09/2009 - 9:15 p.m. CDT

“This modest, but comfortable, Park Manor building still stands at the northwest corner of Ward Parkway and Roanoke Parkway. It has been converted from the older cooperative style of ownership to the condominium plan in recent years.

By William Worley

It was the eve of the onset of the Great Depression—September 29, 1929. Two couples sat down for a contract Bridge game at 902 Ward Parkway, first floor apartment, west side of the Park Manor cooperatively owned Apartments. They had spent the day on the links at Indian Hills Country Club, the third most prestigious country club in the Country Club District. Both at the Club and back at the apartment, liquor flowed in spite of the national law prohibiting same.

The Bennetts and the Hofmanns played according to the most recently published rules for this new version of Bridge which was just then sweeping the country. The wives knew and understood the rules better than the husbands though all had played before. In a not unusual turn of events for contract Bridge, Jack Bennett played the hand while his partner and wife Myrtle was “dummy” according to the bidding. Jack Bennett had bid one spade, Hofmann responded with two diamonds, and Myrtle Bennett raised the bid to four spades because of the strength of her hand in that suit.

Published 06/25/2009 - 11:17 p.m. CDT

“The restored Bunker Building stands at the jog in Walnut where it crosses 9th Street. The jog exists because the land developer of the plat on which the Bunker stands did not choose to line up his section of Walnut with that further south from 9th. Such jogs are common throughout the city and region in 19th and early 20th century land subdivision practices.”

By William Worley

Just across the street from last week’s subject, the New York Life [Aquilla] Building, stands “The Bunker Building.” Built just a few years earlier than its taller, more imposing neighbor, this red brick edifice housed a function for which Kansas City is still well-known—syndication of newspaper features, stories and comics.
    Syndication in this case means that the employees of the Western Newspaper Exchange, operated by W. A. Bunker, who also constructed the building and modestly named it in his own honor, daily clipped news stories, features and editorials from midwestern newspapers and then distributed them by mail to subscribing newspapers west of Kansas City.

Published 06/18/2009 - 3:43 p.m. CDT

The twin towers set off the St. Gaudins bronze eagle in a remarkable way thanks to the morning sunlight reaching its 9th & Walnut location in downtown Kansas City

By William Worley

One of Kansas City’s most notable landmarks for well over a century is currently sitting unoccupied and on the market for a fraction of its renovated cost from the 1990s. What is currently known as the Aquilla Building, but which was built as the regional headquarters for the New York Life Insurance Company could be a bargain for some company that wants a signature structure for Kansas City. Or, it could be purchased and torn down, in spite of its status as an official historic landmark.

In the mid 1880s, the New York Life Insurance Company wanted to expand its territory and establish regional offices that would be impressive and commodius. In Kansas City and Omaha, they used a design developed by the nationally known firm of McKim, Mead and White. Both buildings still stand in 2009 although the Kansas City structure is the more faithfully restored and carefully preserved of the two.

Published 05/28/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT

The Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas City [of which the author is a member] have placed this marker to commemorate the site of the jail collapse at Grand & I-670.

By William Worley

Kansas City is dead center in “Border War” country. Annually, football and basketball games between the Universities of Missouri and Kansas are billed as “renewals” of the Civil War strife that made Jackson and surrounding counties in Missouri as well as Lawrence in Kansas very unsafe places to live in the decade from 1854 to 1865.
As a graduate of two Kansas universities [KU and K-State] and with a son and daughter-in-law who are MU grads, the present author holds that ANY comparison between the lawless era of the Civil War with current sports rivalries is dangerous and misleading. The Missouri-Kansas frontier had been something of a war zone for nine years prior to the events of August 1863. The comparatively tame athletic contests are thankfully conducted according to rules set down by the Big 12 Conference and the NCAA.

Published 05/07/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT

As demonstrated by this early 20th Century photo, White was anything but pretentious. His down-to-earth writing style and advocacy for the common citizen endeared him to generations of Americans and Kansans.

By William Worley

More than a hundred years ago, this small-town Kansas publisher let loose his pen to blast what he then saw as ruinous Populists attacking the solid reputation of his home state. In turn, it made his reputation within the Republican Party nationally and firmly established his Emporia Gazette as a small town force to be reckoned with.

In later years, White concluded that he had written in anger what he might have tempered with a bit of reflection. This is because he actually came to espouse many of the Populist ideas as part of his conversion to Bull Moose Progressive politics along with Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. Even though he later reconciled with the Kansas Republican Party, he always thereafter maintained his independent streak.

Published 04/23/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT

Hidden up on far north 27th Street in Kansas City, Kansas, and almost forgotten by most in the region, this distinctive monument proved to be the first such statue placed in Brown’s honor anywhere in the United States when it was erected in the first decade of the 20th Century. (Photo: William Worley)

By William Worley

In the American Civil War, one of the most effective fighting songs of the Union is often referred to simply as “John Brown’s Body.” Its chorus was so catchy that Julia Ward Howe incorporated it when she wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that became both the official Union “fight song” and religious hymn—“Glory, glory, Hallelujah!”

Published 04/03/2009 - 12:00 a.m. CDT

This view of Benton’s carriage house studio illustrates the state in which it existed on the day he died in 1975. Paints are in cans and brushes are scattered about. Sketches and drawings abound. It was one of the most productive art spaces in Kansas City for more three decades. (Photo: William Worley)

By William Worley

Thomas Hart Benton became one of the “Big Three” regionalist painters in America in the 1930s. At the end of that decade he purchased an existing home for his family of four at 3616 Belleview in the Roanoke District. The house was designed by the same architect who laid out Janssen Place in the Hyde Park area, but had fallen on hard times during the Depression. Benton bought it for less than $10,000.

Benton’s artistic style endeared him to many and angered not a few critics and members of the public. Painting everything from historic subjects to mythological figures [sometimes in the nude], Benton always added his inimitable touches such as elongated necks, flowing clouds or billowing smoke. While he always claimed in later life to be strictly a representational artist, the fact remains that he frequently added somewhat abstract components to paintings if he believed it improved the design.

Published 03/13/2009 - 12:00 a.m. CDT

The Italianate façade of architect Asa Beebe Cross includes Romanesque arches over windows and doors and two finely crafted copper domes atop brick towers. (Photo: William Worley)

By William Worley

As we approach St. Patrick’s Day, a little history of the Catholic parish that bears the name of this missionary and patron saint to all Irish is in order. Founded in 1868 as Kansas City’s third Catholic parish [old St. Regis from the days of the Chouteaus had been transformed into Immaculate Conception in the 1850s; Saints Peter and Paul German parish formed in 1866], St. Patrick’s began life as an auxiliary of the German congregation then meeting in its new home at 9th & McGee.

Not surprisingly, almost all Kansas City Catholics in the 1860s and ‘70s were either Irish or German, but in 1868, there were certainly more from the “Old Sod” than from Bavaria or the Black Forest regions of German-speaking Europe. Hence, while Immaculate Conception served the north end and west side Irish almost exclusively, the German and Irish parishes of the east side [east of Main anyway] overlapped.

Published 02/27/2009 - 12:00 a.m. CDT

By William Worley

African American schools located outside the historic 18th & Vine community seem to many as an oddity, but in fact, they comprised numerically a larger group than those clustered about the center of the neighborhood. Enrollments in the outlying schools varied widely however.

Penn School was one of the older African American schools in that it originated in the Westport School District when that entity was entirely separate from Kansas City just as was its city government. Prior to 1897, both jurisdictions—Westport City and Westport School district—operated as independent agencies.

The neighborhood around Penn School, located on a hilltop at 42nd & Pennsylvania and next to an 1880s streetcar line, was known as “Steptoe” to the south and west of the school site. Dating from the Civil War era, Steptoe [named for one of the streets running through it, now 43rd Terrace] was always an integrated neighborhood with almost all of Westport’s small Black population housed within its boundaries [west of St. Luke’s to Madison, from 42nd Terrace south to 45th, generally.

Published 06/05/2009 - 9:48 a.m. CDT

The magnificent Midland Theater shines in renewed fashion downtown. Its sound problems are long since solved so that it can provide a wonderful venue for cabaret and live entertainment.

By William Worley

In many ways, this is a tale of two theaters that opened only one year apart, and the differing histories they have experienced. On the evening of October 28, 1927, Loew’s Midland Theater opened to 4,000 patrons and one of the longest runs for any Kansas City theater…ever! Not quite one year later, on October 9, 1928, the Plaza Theater opened to a somewhat smaller, but still grand set of patrons some 36 blocks directly south of the Midland.

As it happened, a momentous movie opening occurred in New York City on October 6, 1927, when “The Jazz Singer” debuted to rave reviews as Hollywood’s first “talkie.” Of course, “The Jazz Singer” was really a silent movie with sound sequences—songs by Al Jolson and a bit of spoken dialogue leading into the musical numbers. Nevertheless, the public immediately demanded more “talking” pictures.

Published 05/14/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT

The stone entrance to Janssen Place is the only thing on the street that dates to the opening of the subdivision in 1896. It stands at the northern edge of the former Hyde Park golf course and faces the original homesite of founder Arther Stilwell. (Photo: William Worley)

By William Worley

Best known for his founding of the forerunner of the Kansas City Southern [KCS] Railroad, Arthur Stilwell began his years in Kansas City as a real estate entrepreneur. He never really left that occupation the rest of his life in that his promotion of the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf [later KCS] was integrally entwined with his land development efforts as well.

The 1880s was an expansive period in Kansas City. Real estate “boomers” came from all over the country to partake of the spoils of “getting on the ground first.” Arthur Stilwell was one of these; in this particular instance he arrived from his home town of Rochester, New York. Proceeding to buy land with other people’s money, Stilwell formed what he called the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Trust Company. In spite of its similarity to the official name of the KATY Railroad, the MKT Trust really dealt in vacant land for residential speculation.

Published 04/30/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT

Mike Pendergast’s gravestone rests quietly nestled in the leaves and grass of Calvary Cemetery at 69th & Troost. Brother Tom’s marker is in the same cemetery but in a different plot.

By William Worley

Few names resonate through the annals of Kansas City history as thoroughly as does that of Pendergast. For most who recognize it, the reference seems to indicate Tom Pendergast who indeed “held court” at 1908 Main Street from 1928 until his downfall in 1939. True aficionados will possibly throw in the name of Jim Pendergast who was indeed the oldest of the brothers and founder of the political dynasty.

But, there was another Pendergast—Mike. If you had asked Harry Truman about the Pendergasts, he would have told you he respected Tom, but he loved Mike. You see, it was Mike and his son Jim who appeared in Harry Truman’s haberdashery in the spring of 1922 to suggest that the former Army captain run for political office in Jackson County. That has to have been one of the all-time most important political parleys in Kansas City history, and Tom Pendergast was not in the room!

Published 04/09/2009 - 11:00 p.m. CDT

This wonderful bronze statue of Lewis, Clark, York, Sacagawea [with Jean Baptiste] and Seaman, the dog, stands in the circle at 8th & Jefferson in Case Park overlooking the junction of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers visited by the expedition. (Photo: William Worley)

By William Worley

At one level the title of this piece is absurd. Of course, there was no “Kansas City” during the lifetimes of either Meriwether Lewis [1774-1809] or the longer-lived William Clark [1770-1838]. However, they did both pass through this place in 1804 and again in 1806.

On the second occasion, they climbed a hill here, part of which still exists. William Clark even noted in his journal [Lewis, suffering from a gunshot wound, was not journaling at the time] that the hill overlooking the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers would be a fine spot for a fort.

Published 03/20/2009 - 12:00 a.m. CDT

The dedication stone of Municipal Auditorium commemorates the Pendergast allies who ran city government when this basketball palace was built. (Photo: William Worley)

By William Worley

As we descend into March Madness once again, it might be well to take stock of the longtime love affair between the Kansas City region and the game of basketball. It is impossible to say with certainty when the first game was played in the region, but likely it was at the YMCA in the mid-1890s. That’s because future regional resident James Naismith invented the game in 1891 in Springfield, MA at the International YMCA Institute. The new game was a response to a class assignment.

All we know for sure is that by 1898 when Naismith became college chaplain and assistant professor of Physical Education at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, a few women’s basketball games had been played at that institution prior to his arrival. Further, as he looked around for potential opponents for his newly organized men’s student team, he found them at the YMCAs in Kansas City and Topeka.

Published 03/06/2009 - 12:00 a.m. CDT

Walt’s old school became D. A. Holmes School long after his graduation from its 7th grade in 1916.

By William Worley

Probably most people in Kansas City are aware that one of America’s best loved film makers spent much of his youth here in the city. What is probably less well known is the fact that one of his boyhood homes and the school he attended for six years before World War I are still standing although much altered.

Walter Elias Disney turns out to have been a Chicago native however. When he was four years old, the family moved to rural Marceline, Missouri, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. In 1909, when he was seven, they moved into Kansas City. That fall Walt was enrolled at Thomas Hart Benton School located at 30th & Benton Boulevard, just over a block from the family home on 31st Street.

Published 02/20/2009 - 12:00 a.m. CDT

Expanded and remodeled in the 1990s, Lincoln Academy [former Lincoln High School and Junior College] continues to occupy one of the most prominent positions near downtown Kansas City atop its hilly home at 22nd & Woodland adjacent to the now reviving 18th & Vine District. (Photo: William Worley)

By WIlliam Worley

When the Kansas City, Missouri, School Board was established following the Civil War, it was mandated by the 1865 state constitution to provide schooling opportunities for both its white and black children. The same constitution required that this be provided in segregated schools because the re-writers of the document feared that integrated schools would not be supported by white parents.

In the fall of 1867, two elementary schools opened within in easy walking distance of one another in what is now downtown Kansas City. At 11th & Locust, Central School opened for white children. Two blocks away at 11th & Cherry, Lincoln School opened its doors for African American children. Both schools initially offered classes solely for children in grades 1-8.