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Hyde Park residents treasure memories, welcome resurgence, 1982 PDF  | Print |

Kansas City Star, September 16, 1982, elaine Johnson

It was 1936, the depth of the Depression, and Lois Brent and her mother had just moved into a big house on Campbell Street in Hyde Park, the reigning queen of Kansas City neighborhoods.

For a down payment they used $1,000 of the insurance money Miss Brent and her mother had received after Mr. Brent died. The monthly payments were $39—“and that was hard to get.” Miss Brent said. “I didn’t make $100 a month, but I made the payments on that house.”

Miss Brent, 71, still lives in Hyde Park, an area bordered by 31st and 47th streets, Gillham Road and Troost Avenue. Throughout the years, she has watched her neighborhood weather changes wreaked by the Depression, the second World War, the baby boom and the housing-industry slump of the 1970s.

The changes were not always welcome. For a while, it seemed as if the queen of neighborhoods was aging badly, its glorious youth fading into dowdy old age. However, like a loyal handmaiden, Miss Brent remained true-blue.

The neighborhood, like Lois Brent, endured. Hyde Park now is peopled by a new breed of entrepreneur, not unlike the lumber barons and capitalists who helped start the neighborhood more than 80 years ago. These new residents speculated in a declining neighborhood and revitalized it. Hyde Park’s tenacity, and the hard work and elbow grease of this new generation of homeowners, will be celebrated Saturday and Sunday in the annual Hyde Park Festival, featuring a street fair and open house at nine restored homes. (for details, see the Tip sheet on Page 1B).

A Hyde Park address was a mark of wealth and prestige in turn-of-the-century Kansas City. Rich lumbermen, businessmen and lawyers flocked to what was then the edge of town to build their sprawling brick and stone mansions.

Delbert J. Haff, a lawyer who is credited with masterminding the city’s parks and boulevards, was one of the first to move is family to Hyde Park. His daughter, Madeline Haff Field, now 88, remembers moving into the stone mansion at 416 E. 36th St. when she was 6. It would be her home for more than 50 years. Her two children were born and reared there.

“I loved that house so much,” she said. “It was the first house in that square from 36th to Armour.”

The neighborhood was hillier before modern engineers built up Gillham Road, she said. A main thoroughfare crossed along 36th Street.

“The wagons would come up that hill with their horses,” she said. “They got so winded they would stop in front of our home. We had a lemonade stand.”

She has many other cherished memories of her Hyde Park childhood. There was the day in 1910 when former President Theodore Roosevelt visited a Hyde Park neighbor, Missouri, Gov. Herbert Hadley. The neighborhood children greeted him at 36th and Locust streets.

“’Hi, 36th and Locust,’ Mr. Roosevelt called out,” Mrs. Field said.

Miss Haff left home to attend Vassar College, and, in 1921, on a snowy Mark day, she married lawyer R. Harrison Field.

The 1920s were the days of large household staffs and beautiful parties. The household employed a cook, a maid, laundresses and—while the children were young—a French governess.

By the time Miss Brent and her mother moved to Hyde Park in the 1930s, the first changes were beginning to ripple through the proud neighborhood. “Some families, in the Depression, had to leave, but it was still real pretty.” Miss Brent said.

Miss Brent and her mother were considered outsiders by original residents. “It was built by wealthy people,” Miss Brent said. “I had the feeling they resented outsiders.”

Neighbors also disapproved of Mrs. Brent taking in boarders to make ends meet—an attitude that has resurfaced among the new generation of homeowners.

However, the boarders ere a wave of the future, especially during World War II and the subsequent baby boom, when a housing shortage gripped the city. “People began turning homes into apartments, but there were still several original owners,” Miss Brent said.

In 1952, the Fields joined many of their friends in the exodus south. “It got to the point where we had to move,” Mrs. Field said.

The Hyde Park mansion was inconvenient: “It was a huge house.”

A few years later, Miss Brent and her mother changed addresses, too. They moved around the corner to a 16-room brick mansion on Charlotte Street that Miss Brent had long admired.

By the time her mother died in 1962, the changes were becoming obvious to her.

The grand facades of many neighborhood homes fronted honeycombs of apartments. The Haff mansion at 36th and Locust streets was turned into a nursing home.

However, the spiraling housing prices of the last decade rekindled interest in Hyde Park. An estimated one-third of the houses changed hands between 1975 and 1977. Young professionals, unable or unwilling to afford the cookie-cutter housing of the suburbs, turned their eyes to the solid, massive homes of Hyde Park. They were willing and able to tackle the long-term renovation projects necessary to restore the mansions to their original splendor.

“I was so happy to see the block come back,” Miss Brent said sitting in the high-ceilinged living room of her home.

“I know more of the neighbors since the young people moved in,” she said. “The are more friendly than the old ones . . . I feel more accepted now.”

Mrs. Field, too, welcomes the new Hyde Park residents. Five of them restored the Haff mansion after the last nursing home occupant moved out in 1979.

The neighborhood is alive again, a playground for another generation of children. This fall, the children will stomp through colored leaves falling on Hyde park, like Madeline Haff did 80 years ago.

“I remember playing and jumping around in the leaves. I took my grandchildren there, so they’d have the experience, too.”

A post card included with the article featured the Hyde Park home of Mr. and Mrs. William Magraw Reid at 300 E. 36th St., at the intersection of Gillham Road, McGee and 36th streets. Mr. Reid was a realtor and a director of the First National Bank. The property now is occupied by the chancery offices of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic Diocese. A three-story addition has been built on the west side of the residence.