Every block of Midtown Kansas City has a unique history, and the block between Armour and 36th, McGee and Gillham is steeped in Catholic history and the transformation of Armour Boulevard from a boulevard of mansions to a busy street lined with luxury residential hotels.
As part of our Uncovering History Project, the Midtown KC Post is taking a look at the 1940 tax assessment photos of each block in Midtown. This week we’re focusing on a block of Hyde Park from Armour Boulevard to E. 36th Street, from McGee to Gillham. (Many people seem confused by the tax assessment photos, which all include a man holding a sign. Here’s the story behind them).
In 1904, J. Logan Jones was prospering. He and brother Lawrence had owned several dry goods stores in Kansas, and built the seven-story Jones Dry Goods Company in Kansas City at 6th and Main in 1895. The store was very successful and Jones took on a role as both a commercial and civic leader. He decided that year to build a home on Armour Boulevard, then a street of some of the most lavish mansions in Kansas City, on large lot fronting Armour between Gilliam and McGee.
“The large lot on which Mr. Jones’ new home will stand is well covered with native forest trees, including scaly bark hickory, black walnut, sycamore, elm, white oak, hackberry and blackthorn. The contour of the ground is such as will admit a sunken garden in the rear. The plans include a large, roomy stable built of stone to conform to the general outlines of the residence, “the Kansas City Star wrote on July 31, 1904.
The house was designed by architect Charles Smith. “It will be of the old English type, constructed of Phoenix stone, with red tile roof. The exterior of the house will be simple in detail, but with large, substantial features.”
“The main features of the first floor will be the living and dining rooms, 18×28 feet and 15×23 feet respectively. They will have real old English oak beamed ceilings with wood panels and cornice and wainscoting and will be equipped with brick fireplaces that will be large enough to take in full size cordwood,” the Star said.
Despite his business acumen, the economic downturn of 1907 hit the Jones Dry Goods Store hard, and a few years later Jones sold both the business and his home at 301 E. Armour. Jones moved to 3707 Holmes.
That was how Bishop Thomas Francis Lillis acquired the property in 1911 as an episcopal residence. The following year, the lawn of the home hosted 5,000 children and 2,500 adults who knelt in groups to be blessed by visiting Cardinal Gibbons.
Lillis lived in the home until he died in 1938, when Bishop Edwin O’Hara moved in. But by 1943, Bishop O’Hara, feeling that Armour Boulevard had changed, moved to 5306 Sunset Drive.
“Bishop O’Hara’s purchase was understood to have been motivated by a desire to get into a residential neighborhood. Armour Boulevard, a center of fine homes when the late Bishop Lillis, then co-adjutor to Bishop Hogan, bought the stone residence in 1911, has become a heavily traveled thoroughfare, with many of the fine homes replaced by hotels and apartments and others converted to commercial or industrial uses.” the Kansas City Star reported on Aug. 6, 1943.
But O’Hara had the idea to repurpose the stone home, and in 1948 the Catholic Community Library opened there. The library held 15,000 books “embodying the Christian way of life,” and held lectures and classes.
The home was replaced in 1959 by a seven-story commercial building that over the years was home to businesses such as IBM, Braniff Airlines and Occidental Petroleum. Last year, MAC Properties announced plans to redevelop the building with mixed commercial and apartment uses.
The map above shows four homes on the block that are no longer standing.
The final home on the block, 300 E. 36th Street, was built in 1907 for William Magraw and Mary Alice Moore Reid. The Catholic Diocese bought the rest of the property on the block in 1953-4 and it became the chancery, The building was expanded in 1959 when a three-story addition was erected. Currently, Cornerstones of Care, a family of community service agencies, is housed in the building.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.