Ever wonder where the Valentine neighborhood got its name?

Valentine Road with its wide elegant curves winds through the middle of Valentine.
The street follows the lines of a former horse race track that occupied Midtown before the Valentine and Roanoke neighborhoods were platted. At the turn of the century, it became an exclusive address with large homes built by the city’s well-to-do.

It’s true that Valentine’s Day is a big event in the Valentine neighborhood. There’s always a Valentine’s party where its annual Love Award is bestowed, and the neighborhood in recent years has served its signature cocktail – the Valentini – at the get-together.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking Valentine is named for the romantic holiday.

In fact, the neighborhood takes its name from P.A. Valentine, a real estate developer who owned a lot of Midtown property at the turn of the century, but who never actually lived within the neighborhood boundaries.

Today, Valentine is a small neighborhood tucked in between Broadway and Southwest Trafficway, from 31st Street to 40th. It’s a mixture of urban pioneers who bought cheap in the 1970s and 1980s and new, younger families with children.

“It’s like a small town where everyone knows everyone else,” says neighborhood president Jim Martin. “We see each other out on our front porches or as we walk our dogs.”

What is now Valentine was originally a farm owned by Allen B.H. McGee, son of one of the founders of Kansas City. His land stretched from 35th to 39th, from Broadway to Holly. He used part of his land for crops and pastures.

Then in 1883 and for the several years thereafter, McGee’s land became a popular entertainment venue. Small livestock shows and agricultural fairs were popular with Kansas Citians and drew half of the city’s population to a fairground south of town. When that fairground was destroyed by a fire, Allen McGee and several partners formed the Kansas City Interstate Fairground on the McGee property.

The fairground featured horse races and even Ben-Hur style chariot races. But the fairgrounds closed in 1887, when a land boom made the property so valuable that it was sold and development of large homes began, attracting former downtown residents who wanted to escape the congestion.

It’s said that the curve of Valentine Road still follows the line of the old racetrack.

Most of Valentine’s homes were built from 1900 to 1910, attracting bankers and lawyers, railroadman and lumbermen and their families. Many of the homes were later broken up into apartments in reaction to housing shortages after World War II. In more recent history, people moved back into the large homes and have deconverted them back to single family use. In the 1980s most of the neighborhood was downzoned to single family to prevent any more breaking up of the houses.

Currently, Martin says the neighborhood is continuing to shore up its single-family status.  Over the past several decades, the neighborhood has clashed with Kansas City Life Insurance, which has its headquarters on Broadway and has sizable real estate holdings in the neighborhood.

Martin says the neighborhood recently worked with Kansas City Life to downzone homes north of Valentine Road. Kansas City Life owns most of the property in that area but the company has sold off some remaining single-family homes.

Martin says the downzoning has had several goals.

“First, to connect that area with the rest of the neighborhood. Secondly, to stabilize single-family ownership in the neighborhood. And finally, to show Kansas City Life we can work together, which could lead to getting other issues resolved,” he says.

The neighborhood has also been working to find a new use for the Norman School, which has been vacant since the Kansas City School District sold it to a developer several years ago. Martin says the neighborhood has hopes it will be redeveloped.

“We are open to a lot of options. Two of those most favored by the neighborhood are senior housing or a school,” he says.

He says education is a big issue to residents, especially younger families who are moving into the neighborhood.

“For years, we’ve had people move in, then move out when their kids get older,” Martin says.“Education is really something the neighborhoods need to work on together.”