Grain magnate predicted the future of 51st and Oak

The Central United Methodist Church and the Young Matrons Clubhouse replaced two homes that had once stood on the west side of Oak Street between 51st and 52nd. The church moved to this new location in 1939 and the recently-moved Young Matrons Clubhouse opened the same year. The block is currently under development as a Whole Foods store, UMKC offices, apartments and parking.
The Central United Methodist Church and the Young Matrons Clubhouse were the only buildings on Oak Street between 51st and 52nd in 1940.  The church moved to this new location in 1939 and the Young Matrons Clubhouse opened the same year. The block is currently under development as a Whole Foods store, UMKC offices, apartments and parking.

Near the site where a Whole Foods store now stands at 51st and Oak Streets, a Kansas City grain executive named Edwin Shields once lived with his wife in a celebrated house known as Oaklawn. Shields occupied a large tract of land along with neighbor Herbert Hall that, by the time this map was made in 1907, was surrounded by residential development.

Although the block was in the middle of a building  boom, this block remained under the control of the two families, which explains why a set of photos taken in 1940 show only two properties on the block – the church seen above and the Young Matrons Clubhouse seen below.

Note: This post was originally published on Sept. 26, 2016.

A 1907 Tuttle & Pike map shows the large tract of property owned by Edwin Shields between Holmes and Oak.

As part of our Uncovering History Project, the Midtown KC Post is taking a look at each block in Midtown, including a set of 1940 tax assessment photos which is available for many blocks. (Many people seem confused by the tax assessment photos, which all include a man holding a sign. Here’s the story behind them).  Today, the block between Brookside and Oak  from 51st to 52nd Streets.

Edwin Shields saw the future of the area

Oakland in 1926 at 51st and Cherry, on the east side of Shields’ large tract of land.
Oakland in 1926 at 51st and Cherry, on the east side of Shields’ large tract of land.

At the turn of the 20th century, Midtown development centered around what was called the Hyde Park district, with neighborhoods springing up quickly. South of Brush Creek was still “out in the country,” although wealthy residents such as William Rockhill Nelson had their large estates there.

Another of those who recognized the value of the land to the south was Edwin Shields, president of Simonds-Shields-Lonsdale Grain Company. His neighbors included Herbert Hall and U.S. Eppression.  When Shields died in 1920, the Kansas City Star gave his credit for his foresight.

The church under construction in 1939.

“The death of Mr. Shields not only marks the passage of one of the pioneer grain dealers of Kansas City, but one whose vision in Kansas City’s future came early in his career. Before others seemed to grasp that the trend of Kansas City was to be southward, Mr. Shields showed his firm belief by investing in property in that direction. Whenever he could he bought real estate here and there, and unlike many others, immediately improved it. In downtown Kansas City Mr. Shields favored properties in and around Grand avenue, where at the time of his death he had valuable holdings. In 1910, Mr. Shields built Oaklands, his beautiful home near Fifty-second and Cherry streets. It was among the first homes to be constructed in that locality. It is in the Elizabethan style of architecture and contains furnishings of that period. “

After Shields’ death, his wife and a trust for Linda Hall set up by Herbert Hall held a large piece of property in joint ownership. Hall left his estate to develop what would become the Linda Hall Library. Mrs. Shields donated two tracts of land to the University of Kansas City in 1946, which allowed the forerunner of UMKC to connect its campus to Epperson House, which Epperson’s widow donated to the school in 1942.

The Church moves south

The Shields’ property not only contributed to the creation of an urban university, but also allowed the Central United Methodist Church to move south.

Churches like to locate near the places their members live, and Central was looking for a new spot in the 1930. Its members had moved south, as Shields had predicted, and church leaders were  eyeing a site on the northwest corner of 52nd and Oak – but it faced a problem that plagued many growing churches in that era. If they could find a site within the new residential neighborhoods, how could they find a spot that could provide enough parking for all the people who wanted to drive to church?

The Kansas City Star on Nov. 26, 1933 explained the problem.

“Ever since the motor car came into anything like general use, the church coming into the residential district has created a puzzle and a problem to real estate developers and owners of residences very near proposed church sites. Now, for the first time in Kansas City, that problem is to be solved in quite definitive fashion.

“The church problem in the residential neighborhood has centered around parking space. With churches an admitted neighborhood asset in many respects, nevertheless subdividers investing time and fortune in developing residential neighborhoods have tried to diplomatically shy away from such newcomers. The reason has been parking space. The time of church services or any meeting can be marked by the passer-by who merely needs to note the parked motor cars in the church vicinity. Home owners near churches know the occasional annoyances of being unable to park their cars in the street near home on occasions.”

However, the newspaper credited Mrs. Shields and Mr. Hall with finding a solution. Because they controlled a large tract of land, they were able to offer the church enough property to include a sizable parking lot as part of its development.

The Young Matrons built their clubhouse on this block in 1939, on land they also bought from Shields and Hall. It is seen here in 1940 when the group had just opened its doors. In 2015, the clubhouse was moved from the original site to 52nd and Cherry to make room for a Whole Foods, UMKC Student Health and Counseling Center, apartments and a parking garage.
The Young Matrons built their clubhouse on this block in 1939, on land they also bought from Shields and Hall. It is seen here in 1940 when the group had just opened its doors. In 2015, the clubhouse was moved from the original site to 52nd and Cherry to make room for a Whole Foods, UMKC Student Health and Counseling Center, apartments and a parking garage.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *