The 3900 blocks of Troost and Forest were described by their original developer as an “ideal residence park where all homes are complete, well-designed, original and artistic.” Most of the homes were built around 1909-1910, and since then, the neighborhood has had its ups and downs, but current residents say Manheim is making a comeback.
The block was originally part of the estate of J.J. Squier, whose estate was well-known by Kansas Citians at the turn of the 20th century. A deer park surrounded by an iron fence drew visitors.
“The city appeared to have passed the estate in its rapid growth south,” the Kansas City Times reported in 1909. But a few years before that story appeared, a man named Robert Jones, the son-in-law of Squier himself, had put forth a novel idea for laying out a new suburb of Kansas City. The Star called Jones “the man who dared to make a crooked road.”
Jones was bothered by the way most south side Kansas City areas were being developed: roads that went straight east and west or north and south, with homes squeezed in too close together, and looking too much alike to suit his taste. He detailed a new way of doing things as he was creating Squier Manor from 37th to 40th Streets, from Troost to the Paseo.
“Now, look at this row of houses. There is nothing of ostentation in these houses, you see. They’re houses first – simple, livable. Every one is of a different design. But that isn’t the only thing. Instead of crowding them all up to within a few yards of the sidewalk in order to make a backyard for the benefit of the kitchen I have placed them as far back as convenient and given them the advantage of a good big strip of front garden, and at the same time for the street, quiet another air of space and proportion. There are three advantages in that bit of planning alone, the houses look better, the street looks wider, and the garden is respected as a garden, not as a yard.”
But Jones did not stop with the design of the homes. He laid out the roads to follow the natural curves of the land.
“I set out with the belief that nothing could be too good for Kansas City,” he told the Times. And I have had no reason to change my program. People who buy homes in Kansas City want something that will be beautiful outside as well as inside. And more and more they are coming to see where a lot depends on settling in a neighborhood that has been deliberately planned in such a way as to insure its remaining a pleasant district to live in.”
By the 1940s, when a set of photos of each home was taken, the block was a a typical middle-class area of Midtown.
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 Warwick to Walnut, from 43rd to 44th in the Southmoreland neighborhood. (Many people seem confused by the tax assessment photos, which all include a man holding a sign. Here’s the story behind them).
Like many areas of Kansas City, this block was subject to “white flight” around the early 1970s. At a celebration of Manheim’s “grandmothers,” who have lived in the neighborhood for many decades, Arvern Hughes shared her experience living at 39th and Forest for 46 years. She recalled that when she moved to Mannheim, there were only two black families, but more black families moved in and the neighborhood declined for a while. Now, she says, Manheim is making a comeback as a racially-mixed area.
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.