Although his apartment building and small homes along Armour Boulevard no longer stand, W.H. Collins is remembered as a pioneer who left his mark on Midtown Kansas City. Collins’ structures once dominated the block from Armour Boulevard to 36th Street, from Central to Wyandotte, although neither his groundbreaking apartment building or workingmen’s cottages remain today.
As part of our Uncovering History Project, the Midtown KC Post is taking a look at each block in Midtown, including a set of 1940 tax assessment photos which is available for many blocks. (Many people seem confused by the tax assessment photos, which all include a man holding a sign. Here’s the story behind them). This week, the block from Armour Boulevard to W. 36th Street, from Central to Wyandotte.
W.H. Collins rode the development rollercoaster
In 1921, the Kansas City Star called W.H. Collins “a man who was not daunted by early misadventures in real estate.” He came to Kansas City with an interest in building houses, but arrived at the end of the real estate boom in the mid 1880s. After initial lack of success, he became the bookkeeper for the Kansas City Star until the market improved in the 1890s. Collins then began building fulltime, creating numerous small houses and apartment buildings across the city.
The prolific builder is best remembered for developing a new style of apartment layout, “a floor arrangement that eliminated the long-hall type of suites that were characteristic of the first ‘flats,’” the Star said. “The ‘Collins plan’ became almost standard until another innovation, the kitchenette, came along.”
The Colonnade on Armour
When it was built in 1905, Collins’ Colonnade was one of the largest apartments in Kansas City. It stretched the entire block from Central to Wyandotte, one continuous building. Each apartment had five rooms, with high beamed ceilings, two bedrooms and a maid’s room with rear entrance, and a front porch with a decorative railing. The builder also built four small cottages along the south side to keep other apartment buildings from being built too close.
Collins also gave his name to a similar building, the Collinwood, on the south side of Linwood between Prospect and Wabash.
The Colonnade stood until 1973, when the Commercial Union Assurance Companies tore it down and built an office building, currently occupied by the Red Cross.
Fight to save the cottages
The cottages Collins built on the south end stood until 1976, when the Commercial Union Assurance Companies wanted the space for parking. For a while, their preservation became a cause for the Historic Kansas City Foundation, which tried to get out the word that the 60-year-old homes were historically important. Commercial Union agreed to give them to anyone who could haul them away within two weeks.
Mrs. Suzanne Statland, a foundation board member, told the Star on Nov. 11, 1976 the houses were classic examples of workingmen’s cottages that dotted Kansas City’s residential areas in the first two decades of the century.
“As far as foundation members can determine, nobody famous ever lived, and nothing particularly notable ever happened there. Mostly, Mrs. Statland said, they represent the kind of modest but solid homes that were once a staple of American building. However, the years have not been kind to modest homes such as these. Many have been leveled to make way for apartment complexes and commercial buildings, and those that remain frequently are in poor condition.”
A search of newspapers that year shows no record of the houses being preserved.
The slideshow below shows the other homes and apartment buildings on this block as they looked in 1940.
Historic photos courtesy Kansas City Public Library/Missouri Valley Special Collections.
Do you have memories or more details about this area of Midtown? Please share them with our readers. Would you like us to focus on your block next week? Send us an email.
Our book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now. Let us know if you want us to come to your neighborhood association or organization’s meeting to share what we’ve learned about Midtown neighborhood history and tell your members how they can help preserve Midtown history. If you’d like to order the book, email Mary Jo Draper at email@example.com.