The Nearly Forgotten Historic Northeast Kansas City
Designed by Henry Wright and completed in 1908, the Colonnade on the Concourse was dedicated to John F. Kennedy in 1965 by American Legion Post 151.
I never seem to tire from the experience of exploring Kansas City’s Northeast. With its hugely international community, historic beauty and colorful past. The Northeast is home to some of Kansas City’s oldest and most stunning homes, breathtaking views and impressive parks . It holds the memories of a Kansas City past that is fabulously rich with the experiences that define us today. It is high time to explore and celebrate this part of our history and begin to uncover this glorious part of our past.
It could be a early indication of urban sprawl that is to blame, but while European cities preserve and maintain the buildings and structures that define their history, it has been our habit to abandon and reach for a clean slate. Perhaps no other area of Kansas City demonstrates this fact better than Northeast Kansas City.
A stroll down Independence Avenue presents once grand homes that have begun to suffer from time. One can almost hear the laughter and music of a splendid party hosted by a former resident. With great misfortune, as time passed the family’s that first made their lives in the Northeast sought greener pastures leaving behind the grand homes. The demands of the age and size of these structures could serve as insurmountable to the average occupant.
As time has passed large areas of the Northeast became blighted. The area began to become associated with crime, prostitution, homelessness and drug dealing.
A tenacious and dedicated Chamber of Commerce can be thanked for the revival of the Northeast. The Chamber recently celebrated its twenty-first birthday with a banquet honored by the presence of enthusiastic guests that included notable members of city government.
The Chamber’s president Bobbi Baker-Hughes has worked tirelessly not only to form a devoted Chamber but to work as an advocate for the community. Bobbi serves on several boards that contribute greatly to the services required in a community with challenges. As a member of the community she has witnessed if not led the changes that have carried the area into its current Renaissance.
Members of The Northeast community have worked hard as volunteers to beautify the area with plantings, landscaping, clean-up and an impressive “Green” initiative.
US Coastal cities embrace and honor their ethnic communities by celebrating the colorful cultures through food, art, language and music. Kansas City too is starting to grasp the idea that our diversity is a great strength. As a traveler, I love nothing more than the experience of strolling through neighborhoods of all kinds to “feel” how the environment of changes. I believe that when I introduce my children to those experiences, I give them a the gift of confidence, broader thinking and of acceptance; tools that will serve them well in a future of diverse experiences.
The Northeast has a sizable Latino community but hasn’t managed to attract Kansas Citians in the way that the Southwest Boulevard area has. There are Hispanic grocers, bakeries and other business waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. The Northeast is also home to a large refugee community with offerings from all corners of the earth.
Pendleton Heights has an active neighborhood association that work together to meet the neighborhood needs. The group plans and discusses ways to build their community.
Pendleton Heights is said the be Kansas City’s oldest suburb. The residential area was home to some of Kansas City’s most affluent families in its time.
Many of the homes in Pendleton Heights were connected by a tunnel system thought to transport liquor during prohibition.
My childhood friend Julie, from Lawrence who has lived abroad as well as in various areas of the US has chosen to make Pendleton Heights her home. Gatherings in her completely renovated house bring the past and present together with its high ceilings, spacious rooms, lovely original wood-work combined with all the attractive and comfortable modern conveniences. Julie’s home was once a boarding house. During the time in which the dwelling held boarders the attic caught on fire, tragically resulting in the death of two children. It seems that the children in addition to other occupants have chosen to remain. Julie and her husband frequently hear the patter of little feet running through the house and a figure of a man wearing a confederate uniform has appeared on the second floor. I had my own ghostly experience in her home. At a recent party, I took my husband upstairs for a tour. Thinking that Julie was in one of the rooms, I called for her as I weaved in and out of various spaces. A clearly audible response came from a female voice that said, “Yeah”. Had my husband not heard it also I might have questioned my own reliability. When I found Julie she and a small group were entering into a bedroom from a second floor deck. I told my story as the group listened when the ceiling fan turned on and began spinning by itself.
There are no shortages of ghost stories from residents of the Northeast.
Kansas City’s Northeast consists of numerous neighborhoods in various states of rehabilitation. The houses vary in size, age and stature. There is an emergence of new residents who are buying and investing in these lovely homes.
The debate about gentrification is a real one and the northeast offers valid arguments for both sides. Regardless of one’s take on the issue it is hard to debate the value in the restoration and new found pride that can be found.
In 1861 the anti-slavery minister, Reverend Nathan Scarritt built a log cabin on what is now known as Scarritt Point. The location, overlooking the Missouri River provided the Westport family some distance from the mounting dangers of the civil war. In 1870 Scarritt commissioned the building of a home for his family on the northeast corner of Gladstone Boulevard and Sunset Dr. The only images of the house which burned, are watercolor paintings created by what was believed to be the architect. The painting illustrates a sizable home with a carriage house in the rear. When the area was annexed in 1886 the homes that were built followed suit.
As Kansas City grew, the Northeast became a desirable location for affluent Kansas Citians to make their homes. The Former R.A. Long House, now the Kansas City Museum, was built in 1908. The house was known by several names such as Corinthian Hall, named for the six Corinthian columns at the entrance of the home. It was also called “The Palace on Gladstone Boulevard” for obvious reasons. The Beaux -Arts Style home, designed by Henry Hoyt consisted of 35,000 square feet.
The Wallace House Castle originally stood on Gladstone Boulevard but was relocated to make way for the Long Home. Initially in 1887, the house was built in red brick, a turreted Queen Anne style home. When it was moved in 1908 it was covered in cut limestone to create the castle motif. Judge William Hockaday Wallace was noted to be responsible for the capture and prosecution of the James Gang.
The Scarritt neighborhood includes many stunning homes that were built mainly between 1887 and 1911. Many of the homes are currently in various stages of restoration. A walk along Gladstone Boulevard is certain to offer sounds of the pounding of hammers and the buzz of electric saws.
Our existence as a “throw away” society hasn’t served us well economically or environmentally. Our ancestors and forefathers did well to demonstrate the example of restoration and conservation out of necessity and without even anticipating the manner in which we live today. Like all parts of history, good and bad, there are lessons to be learned and stories to be treasured. As with the passing of parents and grandparents, we must work to uncover our history and preserve it for the future generations.