More Midtown history: Grocery stores, trolleys and movie theaters

grocery storAs the New Year rolls around, we’re looking back at some our most popular local history stories from 2015. Today, those include: the first overhead trolley ride in history, which took place on Broadway; the changes in the Country Club Plaza just east of Winsteads; and early grocery stores all across this part of town.

Each Monday, the Midtown KC Post features a block of Midtown. We share the historic photos we can find, maps of the area and newspaper stories from the late 1800s through the 1950s. We also ask our readers to share their memories so we can help to preserve Midtown history.

This week, we’re looking back at some of our most popular history features from the year. Here are eight history posts we wrote in 2015. We’ll have more tomorrow. And we want to remind readers they they can share memories, old photos and stories through our Uncovering History project.

  • Grocery stores in Midtown: Decades ago, Midtown Kansas City had a grocery store in almost every neighborhood. Before the advent of large chain “super markets,” grocery stores were often literally mom and pop businesses. They grew up along streetcar lines and within walking distance of Midtown residential areas.
  • The northeast corner of 31st and Main: The building at the corner of 31st and Main is one of Midtown’s most distinctive, known as the Jeserich or the Tower Building. Around 1900 the corner housed a drug store, and in the 1940s, it was the factory and salesroom of the Kaufman Window Shade Company.
  • The legacy of early Rockhill resident Laura Nelson Kirkwood: The daughter of William Rockhill Nelson, daughter of the founder of the Kansas City Star, lived at in the house that later became the Rockhill Tennis Club.
  • Just east of Winsteads on the Plaza: The area from Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard to Brush Creek, from Grand to McGee. Modern offices and commercial buildings today dominate the streetscape just east of the Country Club Plaza where small homes and apartments buildings stood 75 years ago.
  • Old Hyde Park: The east side of the 3300 block of Broadway. The east side of the 3800 block of Broadway is dominated these days by Walgreens and a couple of popular local bars, the Blarney Stone and Chez Charlie.
  • World’s first overhead trolley tested on Broadway in early 1880s: Midtown played a major role in transportation history, when tests for the first overhead electric railway car took place at Broadway and 39th street in the early 1880.
  • Southwest corner of Troost and 31st Street: The corner is a vacant lot and a busy bus stop today, but from 1917 to 1997, it was the site of the Wirthman Building which housed a drug store, street-level shops, doctors and dentists and other services, and the much-visited Isis Theater.
  • The corner of 39th and Summit: The Roanoke at 813 W. 39th Street was one of Midtown’s early neighborhood theaters. It also drew large crowds after 1946 when it started showing Mexican movies.

Other history stories we featured this week:

  • North Hyde Park: The area from Linwood Boulevard to 31st Street, from Campbell to Harrison. Today this area is fairly deserted, but a hundred years ago, the block was home to a grand hotel, an important women’s club and a row of businesses along 31st Street.
  • The Plaza: A row of three iconic apartment buildings at the back of the Bloch Cancer Survivors Park on the Plaza was threatened by demolition, so we took a look back at the two blocks around the apartments, from W. 47th to W. 48th Streets, from Roanoke Parkway to Jefferson, to get a sense of their place in history.
  • Crestwood: The area from 51st Street to 54th Street, from Holmes to Cherry. When J.C. Nichols developed the Crestwood neighborhood beginning in 1919, it was advertised as a “garden home” district.
  • Old Hyde Park: The corner of 31st and Oak. Today we call the area around 31st and Oak Street “Martini Corner” in honor of the bars and restaurants that fill the area. A look back to the 1940s shows the buildings in this area have housed a constantly-changing array of local businesses that have served Midtown since they were originally built.
  • Countryside: 51st Terrace to 52nd Street from Main to Brookside in the Countryside neighborhood. The area around 52nd and Brookside was known for its rustic pedestrian bridges that people used to cross a brook to catch the streetcar. It was also the home of Visitation Parish – and the site of the second home that its developer J.C. Nichols built for his own family.
  • South Hyde Park: The 4300 blocks of Troost and Harrison. This area of South Hyde Park developed in the early 1900s, as the Troost streetcar made it easy for potential homeowners to escape the city and buy a home in the “streetcar suburbs.”
  • 39th and Gillham: In 1910, as the desire for new “modern” homes in Midtown Kansas City continued, an “old fashioned, two-story” frame home at 39th and Gillham was being prepared to be moved.
  • Crestwood: Crestwood has a unique history as a Midtown neighborhood; it was intended to be a high-class “garden district” when J.C. Nichols created it as part of his Country Club District.
  • Old Hyde Park: The area from 32nd to 33rd, Gillham Plaza to Gillham. The Raleigh Arms Apartments opened in 1909 just east of where Costco and Home Depot stand today.
  • Midtown’s George Southwell was a composer of band music played in bandstands across the United States and used by missionaries to help “civilize the heathens.”
  • Among the fathers of Midtown, Dr. Joseph Feld: . Before Penn Valley Park was created and before the Valentine, Roanoke, Coleman Highlands and Old Hyde Park neighborhoods were built, the northwest part of Midtown had a huge public park known as Feld Park, named for German immigrant Dr. Joseph Feld. Jan.
  • West Plaza history: from 45th Street south to 46th Street, from Bell to State Line.  The block included several businesses including Phillips Market and Wright’s Lunch on 45th and a number of small residences.
  • Old Hyde Park: The 3400 block of Broadway and Central as well as the blocks of Armour Boulevard and 34th Streets between Armour and Central.
  • Old Hyde Park: The 3400 block of Broadway and Central, as well as the blocks of Armour Boulevard and 34th Streets between Broadway and Central, including the historic Ellison Apartment Hotel at 300 West Armour and Warwick Cleaners at 3421 Broadway.
  • Valentine neighborhood: From 35th Street south to Valentine Road, and Jefferson Street east to Pennsylvania Avenue. Just east of these blocks on Broadway were the Kansas City Life Insurance Company at 3520 Broadway, and the luxury Woodlea Hotel at 3544 Broadway, demolished in 1955 after Kansas City Life bought it in 1950. The Norman School is just to the west on Summit Street (Southwest Trafficway).
  • Southmoreland: From 43rd Street south to 44th Street, and Main Street east to Walnut Street. The Karnopp Building, at 43rd and Main, is among the featured buildings. Now operating as Nature’s Own,iIn 1930, it housed Paul. J. Mason’s Drugs.
  • Heart of Westport neighborhood: The 3900 block of Central in the Heart of Westport neighborhood. Reader Janet Pickett says she grew up on the block. “I watched the city tear down 8 or 10 houses and build the Westport Station post office,” she wrote.
  • Westwood Park: The area from Westwood Road southwest to Westwood Terrace, and Wyoming Street southeast to 50th Street.
  • Countryside: The area from 52nd Street south to Concord Avenue, and Wyandotte Street east to Main Street.
  • Center City: The area from 31st to Armour Boulevard, and Troost to the Paseo, once a center of Jewish life in Kansas City.
  • Old Hyde Park: The 3800 block of Baltimore was the home of Mrs. Pensa Davis, who came to Westport soon after the Civil War war to teach school at a time when school teachers were almost unknown in the county.
  • Valentine: The 3100 block of Broadway today is made up of commercial office, medical and community college buildings, but it was once home to well-to-do Kansas City residents.
  • Valentine: Our video shows several hundred homes that once stood where Penn Valley Community College is today.
  • Rockhill: The block between 45th and 46th Streets, from Kenwood to Holmes, an area developed by William Rockhill Nelson just east of the current Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
  • Troost: How the street changed from “millionaire’s row” to a major commercial and shopping area.
  • Armour Boulevard: The area from Armour to E. 36th Street, from Troost to Forest, a part of Midtown mostly boarded up today but once part of Armour’s lively hotel district.


  1. philip sokol says:

    Link under West Plaza History leads to the Dr Joseph Feld link, so there is no West Plaza History

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