Once exclusive mansions later became part of UMKC

Construction began in 1919 on Epperson House, a 56-room brick mansion at the southwest corner of 52nd and Cherry. Other members of the Kansas City elite also built on the block, which was gradually incorporated into University of Kansas City, started in 1929. Like several of the other fine homes, Epperson House was transformed from a single family home into a part of the educational institution.
Construction began in 1919 on Epperson House, a 56-room brick mansion at 52nd and Cherry. Other members of the Kansas City elite also built on the block, which was gradually incorporated into University of Kansas City, started in 1929. Like several of the other fine homes, Epperson House was transformed from a single family home into a part of the educational institution.
a 1930-1941 Sanborn Fire Insurance map show the block when it was still residential.
a 1930-1941 Sanborn Fire Insurance map show the block when it was still residential.

As Midtown became home to many of Kansas City’s wealthiest families in the early 1900s, they built mansions to house their families. Many of these families later moved on as new districts developed to the south, but they left behind large homes built to last decades, and a number of those homes were repurposed by Kansas City institutions which needed space.

That scenario played out in the block that is today’s focus, 52nd to 54th and from Oak to Cherry/Locust. From one of the city’s most exclusive residential districts, this block was gradually absorbed into the growing University of Kansas City (later the University of Missouri – Kansas City). A look at photos from 1940 catches the block in the midst of that transformation.

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).  

 Epperson House styled after a castle

The Epperson home, seen here in 1940, housed aviation cadets during World War II and was used as a residence hall by the university.  
The Epperson home, seen here in 1940, housed aviation cadets during World War II and was used as a residence hall by the university.

Construction of Epperson House, a 56-room brick mansion patterned on a 15th century castle, began in 1919 and took six years. Architect Horace LaPierre designed the home for philanthropist Uriah Epperson at a cost of $450,000. The Eppersons moved into a home that included six bathrooms, marble fireplaces, carved oak paneling, crystal chandeliers, and a basement swimming pool

When Uriah Epperson died in 1925, his widow continued to live until the home until her own death in 1939. It then became the property of J.J. Lynn, a business associate of Epperson, who planned briefly to use it as an office. But he faced protests from his well-heeled neighborhoods, so in 1942 Lynn donated the building to UKC.

Epperson House then began a new life, first housing aviation cadets. It became a university dormitory in 1949, and in 1957, after new dorms were built, became the school of education.

Museum started life as home to active arts supporter

12-56-15The house slightly to the southeast of Epperson house, now the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, was long known as the home of Mrs. Henry McCune. She was active in many of Kansas City’s civic and cultural projects, working to support the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Conservatory of Music.

Marie Powers Tureman McCune married Dr. Herbert G. Tureman. After he died in 1926, she married Judge Henry McCune in 1934. He was a a former Jackson County circuit judge and city councilman for whom the McCune Home for Boys was named.

Mrs. McCune donated the home to the university in 1966 and it became the Miniature Museum of Kansas City in 1982.

 Another little slice of history on the block comes from 1956 newspaper clippings, which recorded the visit of Opera great Maria Callas to perform a concert for the Friends of Art of the Nelson Gallery. She was greeted at the airport by her friend David Stickelber, who lived south of the McCune home at 5311 Oak.
Another little slice of history on the block comes from 1956 newspaper clippings, which recorded the visit of opera great Maria Callas to perform a concert for the Friends of Art of the Nelson Gallery. She was greeted at the airport by her friend David Stickelber, who lived south of the McCune home at 5311 Oak.

The slideshow below includes images of the rest of the houses on the block in 1940.

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 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 mjdraper@midtownkcpost.com. 

 


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