Car dealers once dominated all the corners of 30th and Gillham

 The triangular corner of 30th and Gillham and McGee Trafficway, where the Filling Station coffee shop stands today, was in the historic center of activity that revolved around the automobile. Seen here, the Greenlease Cadillac Building in 1940.

The triangular corner of 30th and Gillham and McGee Trafficway was an historic center of activity that revolved around the automobile. Seen here, the Greenlease Cadillac Building in 1940.

The area between 29th and 30th Streets along Gillham Road is a popular area today, with refurbished apartment buildings, coffee shops, and new construction projects in the works.

A resident who lives near the Filling Station – a coffee shop in the triangle between Gillham, 30th and McGee Street Trafficway – asked what we knew about the area, and specifically the block north of the coffee shop.

An 1894 map of the area.

An 1894 map of the area.

An early Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (from 1896 to 1907) shows the area before McGee Street Trafficway cut through the area at a diagonal. The map shows six homes on the east side of Gillam on that block between 29th and 30th.

In 1918, one of the homes at 2905 Robert Gillham Road was occupied by the von Unwerth family. Miss Gertrude von Unwerth, who died in the home, was a teacher of German at Manual Training High School for many years and was assigned to the Northeast High School.

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A 1909-1950 map showing the area after the opening of McGee Trafficway lured the Greenlease Cadillac to move from downtown.

While it had looked like a quiet neighborhood, the creation of McGee Street Trafficway opened up the area to a new wave of development led by Cadillac dealer Robert Greenlease, who distributed cars in western Missouri and northeast Kansas. Greenlease Cadillac had been located at 16th and Grand, but the dealer thought moving to the rapidly-developing “south side” would put him closer to customers and give him room to spread out.

“Until McGee Road came, there was no location in Kansas City to meet our requirements for a permanent sales and service building,” Mr. Greenlease told the Kansas City Star. “Motor car business depends on both a successful car and successful service. Retail sales have increased rapidly, which meant we had to look for more room. The increasing number of women drivers demands a service building outside the downtown congestion. McGee Road is going to be our Michigan Boulevard.”

Greenlease also planned a service station, repair shop, painting department and other automobile-related services on the block.

greenlease-used-carsPhotos from 1940 show Greenlease Used Cars occupying the area across the street from the Cadillac showroom. The company bought additional property on Gilliam across the street from its building in 1943, include the Unwerth property.

The Robert C. Greenlease Cadillac dealership has been  converted into 29 condominiums.

Greenlease Cadillac was joined by other car dealers and auto services. The corner of 30th and McGee Trafficway became know as “Ford Corners” in the 1950s, as the Newman-Fox Motor Company took over all four corners of the intersection.

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Rose Brothers sold appliances at 2930 Gilliam in 1040.

The slideshow below shows the homes and buildings on the block from 29th to 30th, Cherry to Gillham, in 1940. Several of the houses on Cherry Street are still in existence.

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. (Many people seem confused by the tax assessment photos, which all include a man holding a sign. Here’s the story behind them).

Corner of 30th and Gilliam in 1940.

Corner of 30th and Gilliam in 1940.

There’s still a lot more to learn. Do you remember this block? What special memories do you have of this section of Midtown? What questions do you have about it? Let us know and we’ll share your history and help to preserve it on our website as part of our Uncovering History project.

Would you like us to focus on your block next week? Send us an email.

 Our new 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. Order the book  

All photos courtesy Kansas City Public Library, Missouri Valley Special Collections.

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