Plaza’s Nordstrom Block Has Seen Changes Before

Families headed up by a saddle maker, a stone mason and a wood worker once lived on this block of the Country Club Plaza, between 47th and 48th from Summit to Jefferson, now the site of redevelopment for a new Nordstrom store. In 1940, when this photo was taken, five small houses lined the west side of Summit Street, and apartment buildings filled in the south end of the block.

Change is happening on this Plaza block from 47th to 48th between Jefferson and Summit, the site of a new Nordstrom store. And it isn’t the first time the block has been transformed. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, small homes populated by working-class families lined the west side of Summit Street. Later, as the Country Club Plaza developed, apartment buildings rose up along the south end of the block, part of a trend toward that type of living. And later, at the tail end of the 1990s, a retail structure was built to front Jefferson, housing over the years a bank, restaurants and a movie theater.

The east side of the block, showing the building at 4720 Jefferson, now the site of the Nordstrom redevelopment.

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). This week, the block between 47th and 48th Streets from Summit to Jefferson on the Country Club Plaza.

A 1919-1950 Sanborn map of the block.

Working class families settled the block in early 1900s

It is hard to establish the exact date of construction, but by the mid-1920s, a handful of families lived in a row of modest houses that faced west on Summit Street. By the 1940s, we find the homes occupied by small families. The 1940 census offers this glimpse into those who lived there:

  • 4719 Summit: Justin Regan, 45, city fireman; wife Mary J., 39; son Jerry A., 12. Rented for $15 a month. Justin’s father, Bernard Regan, a saddle maker, had lived here until he died in 1939.
  • 4717 Summit: George C. Thompson, 52, cannery machinist; wife Vera, 36; son George, 12; daughter Margaret, 9; daughter Martha, 6. Owned the home purchased for $3000. The Thompsons were also there in 1934.
  • 4715 Summit: George F. Longmiller, 81, stone mason, owned home he purchased for $2000. Roscoe E. Smith, 67, and wife Nora, 62, rented at this address for $11 a month.
  • 4713 Summit: Luey (or Loney) Stephens, 73, a barber; wife Hattie, 60, owned this home purchased for $2000.
  • 4709 Summit: Joseph H. Clayton, 68, wood worker with his own shop; wife Jennetta A., 69. They owned the home. Robert Banes, 25, a waiter at a restaurant; wife Helen, 24; son Allen, 8, rented.

Apartments followed a trend for “modern living”

In the 1920s, a period of housing shortage in Kansas City, apartment house life became a trend and saw the creation of many new buildings on the Plaza and elsewhere. On this block, the Cottesbrook (720 W. 48th) and New Vanity Fair Apartments (700 W. 48th) were opened in 1927. The Cottesbrook offered a five room efficiency unit and a porch for less than $70. They were fireproof and soundproof and included a Kelvinator refrigerator.  An ad for the buildings promised they kept pace “with the greatly raised American standard of living. We cannot begin to describe the exceptional features embodied in this new building. You must come and see it for yourself.”

Apartments on the block in the 1980s.

The Cezanne (712 W. 48th) along with its mirror twin Rousseau Building (720 West 48th) opened in 1929. They were designed by prolific Kansas City architect Nelle Peters and are part of the Nelle Peters Thematic Group, which has local historic designation.

A 1929 advertisement for the newly-opened Cezanne apartments.

Apartment residents on the block were mostly young couples, sometimes with one child. Here’s a snapshot from the 1940 census records:

  • 720 W. 48th: 24 households rented for $53-$80. Residents included a freelance artist, several traveling salesmen, a doctor and a lawyer, a district manager of a retail store and a traveling auditor, among others.
  • 712 W. 48th: 18 households rented for $50-$70. Residents included business owners, managers, a doctor, a teacher, and a librarian.
  • 708 W. 48th: 16 households rented for $45-$63. Residents included salesmen, a newspaper telegraph editor, a  stenographer and clerks.
  • 700 W. 48th: 16 households rented for $55-$60. Residents included a dance studio instructor, a stockbroker, several railroad company workers, and several salesmen.

 Unity Temple Opening Follows Years of Planning

Charles Fillmore was a dreamer and a visionary. He believed all people had the capacity to realize their desires if they had emotionally charged faith. He had a vision of a magnificent Temple on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. The Temple would be dedicated to his wife, Myrtle. Unity Temple of the Plaza website

Charles Fillmore bought the lot at the northeast corner of 47th and Jefferson in 1929, but it would be fifteen years before the building of what would become Unity Temple began. It would take patience, commitment and contributions from 100,000 people around the world to open the building in 1948. Today, Unity defines its mission as “to provide an uplifting environment to support all people for the purpose of increasing their well-being.” It offers classes, seminars, workshops and inspirational services.

The slideshow below shows the buildings on the block as they looked in 1940.

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.

 The book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now at local bookstores, on, or directly through me. (Email me to mjdraper@midtownKC post to purchase a copy for $24.68, which includes shipping and handling).


One Comment

  1. Debbie weiss says:

    Does anyone remember the family at 4509 Forrest ave. George and Jenny McGowan and their children Carolyn and jenny Lea. I posted a memories from my childhood the other day. Carolyn my mother would have attended Bancroft approximately 1945 to 1952 , she is still living and it would be great to reconnect her with any classmates that may still be around in the area.

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