West side of 3800 block of Main thrived in developing Midtown

Around 1910, the Dunn home at 3800 Main was one of only two homes of this block which is now lined with commercial spaces and parking lots. That led the Dunns to take advantage of the growing commercial nature of Main – by building business space on to the front of their home. The early mixed-use development was next door to what is now the Unicorn Theater. The Dunn property is now a parking lot.

Around 1910, the Dunn home at 3800 Main was one of only two homes of this block, which is now lined with commercial spaces and parking lots. That led the Dunns to take advantage of the growing commercial nature of Main – by building business space on to the front of their home. The early mixed-use development was next door to what is now the Unicorn Theater. The Dunn property is now a parking lot.

This 1909-1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the Dunn home at 3820 with the house at the rear of the property and the office space on Main.

This 1909-1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the Dunn home at 3820 with the house at the rear of the property and the office space on Main.

In the 1930s, while most of their 3800 Main Street block was being saturated with storefronts, the Madrid Theater and a garage that would become the Unicorn Theater – but it was still the long-time home of the Dunn family.  And they heard a suggestion that they were “losing money in their front yard.”

The Dunn’s  home at 3820 Main had stood in the same place since 1909, while new business buildings filled in almost every inch of valuable Main Street real estate. So the Dunns decided to take advantage of their location, and tacked office space onto the front of their home that would allow their property, allowing it to house Dr. E.H. Dunn’s medical practice, daughter Edna Marie Dunn’s School of Fashion, and other businesses until the late 1940s.

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). This week, we continue to document what is known about the block between 38th and 39th, from Main to Baltimore. More about the southwest corner. The rest of the block will be featured in upcoming posts. Today, Main Street from 38th to 39th.

A recent Google map view of the block.

A recent Google map view of the block.

The Dunns of Main Street

Originally part of the “Mastin tract,’ a large real estate parcel held by an early  Kansas City family, savvy businesswoman Barbara Bescher built her home at the corner of 39th and Main. She sold it two decades later for 20 times what she paid for it; the block had flipped to a commercial center serving those rapidly moving to south and the street car routes had made both 39th and Main major business centers. more about the nw corner of 39th and Main

Dr. and Mrs. Eli Hamlin Dunn moved into a grey stone house at 3820, Mrs. Bescher’s only neighbors for some time. Daughter Edna Marie would marry real estate man Frank Douglas, who told the family in the early 1930s they could cash in on their location by building business space on the street. They built a storefront with high ceilings and skylights.

The Dunn home in 1940.

The Dunn home in 1940.

Dr. Dunn ran his medical practice from the property from the beginning. As a 1937 advertisement in the Kansas City Star said,

“Thirty years at 3820 Main. Specialist on kidney, bladder, gland, rectal rupture, infections, toxemias, private ailments. Safe, inexpensive, effective treatments. Free tests, see for yourself.”

The commercial space in front of the house was used by several businesses between 1937 and 1942, including the Cardinal Grill Fried Chicken Dinner restaurant, as seen in the photo above.

Then Edna Marie Dunn moved her School of Fashion to the space. She worked as the fashion illustrator for the Kansas City Star, and taught sewing, pattern designing, and sketching as well as selling gift cards from the space. Her fashion school thrived during the war, which brought clothing shortages and encouraged women to redesign and alter outfits. Women also liked spending the years while their husbands were away learning new sewing skills.

The Dunns lived in the home until 1947.

3800 Main: from Apartments to Hamburgers

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By 1940, the apartment building was gone, replaced by a commercial building that was occupied by White Castle. Later, the building served as a hamburger stand, a drive in and a car dealership.

A few lots north of the Dunn home, V.B. and C.K. Beckett build a three-story brick apartment building in about 1904. In 1910, the building known as Gayoso offered renters “seven rooms and bath, strictly modern” for $15 a month. The building was demolished in 1937, with its windows, doors and wood floors sold off from reuse elsewhere.

The slideshow below shows the rest of the buildings on Main Street as they looked in 1940.

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 mjdraper@midtownkcpost.com. 

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