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Janssen Place (1897-1964) PDF  | Print |

Jackson County Historical Society, Martha Rowe Lawson

Janssen Place Pillars

Just off busy Gillham Road to the west and Holmes street to the east—five minutes from downtown Kansas City—moments away from the lovely Country Club Plaza—a small, almost forgotten property sits behind massive stone entrance gates. The gracious homes and well-kept lawns hold an aura that few Kansas City residential sections can match.

The imposing gateway, erected in 1896 proclaims to all that this is JANSSEN PLACE and now, as at the time Arthur Stilwell fathered the idea of setting aside Janssen Place for the elite of Kansas City, those living in the area find not so much that they are property owners but rather that they belong to the land.

The property owners of Janssen Place have an association and meet in self-governing sessions. Each home owner owns the street in front of his property and the plaza in front of his house to the center of the medial strip. A gardener, paid by assessment to the property owners, still cares for the medial strip, the gateway and the property immediately in front of each home.

This select area, once referred to as “Lumberman’s Row,” was the vision of Arthur Stilwell, founder of the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

An early photo of Janssen Place with cow pasture, level land, and only the present stone gateway, gives evidence of Arthur Stilwell’s dream. It was largely due to his enthusiasm and energy that the ground, almost a wilderness, was given every possible improvement. Sewers were built; curbing and sidewalks were put in. The wide street was paved and the plaza landscaped. Trees were planted and the entire tract was shown in bluegrass. From a treeless expanse of hillside and plateau, the ground soon changed to an area that has ever since known the care of a gardener.

Mr. Stilwell had great hopes for Janssen Place; similar additions such as Van deventer and Portland Place in St. Louis, for instance, had found great favor. Exclusive residential districts are found in all cities, but Janssen Place was ahead of the times in cow town Kansas City, and was permitted to remain in obscurity. Only three wealthy Kansas Citians ventured “this far south” to build their mansions . . . J. H. Tschudy, Burton D. Hurd and R. M. Rigby.

Members of these families tell of numbers of servants, the family Jersey tethered in the back lot for rich milk and butter, the long trip to town and the special Sunday trips via horse and carriage to Fred Harvey’s for dinner.

Janssen Place had been named by Arthur Stilwell for his friend, August Janssen, a Dutch capitalist who had large investments in Kansas City. In 1906, control of the twenty-eight unsold lots in Janssen Place passed from the Janssen Place Land Company to W. F. Patton, capitalist and brother-in-law of H. C. Flower, president of the Fidelity Trust Company. At this time, the hither-to-fore private street was opened on the south by an arrangement Mr. Patton made with the park board for a thirty-foot boulevard form the south end of Janssen place over park land to a junction with Harrison parkway. This connecting drive from Janssen Place also crossed part of a three acre tract purchased by H. C. Flower on which he intended building his home. The drive, when completed, was turned over to the park board free of cost to become a part of Kansas City’s boulevard and park system.

E. Stilwell had placed rigid restrictions on Janssen Place and Mr. Patton insisted that they be observed by all immediate and future owners of the land. These restrictions, which became a part of each deed, governed the use of the land (for residential purposes only), and the size, cost and placement of the dwellings. At this time, H. C. Flower built a $25,000 residence and carriage house to the south of Janssen place that today is a part of the Notre Dame De Sion school.

In 1913, A. H. Glasner, A. L. Strauss, George Ultch and A. Rosenburger built fine homes in the area. In 1928, F. A. Boxley and W. C. Bowman built, as late comers to the area.

A close-knit group of the Kansas City elite had by now settled in Janssen Place. Arthur Stilwell never lived in Janssen Place itself, but resided in a fine old home just opposite the north gateway that has since been torn down. He is remembered for his way of getting things done, his sincere desire to contribute to a growing metropolis, his fine manners and “dandy” appearance, and his lovely wife, Jenny. Even among these men of obvious means, he is the only one remembered for having a large pipe organ installed in his home.

Young people of the area tended to plan picnics and parties among themselves, as did the parents. Long trips were scheduled by car to a well-known resort in Arkansas. The Tschutte girls had gone abroad early in the 1900’s, and as others followed their lead, the comparing of photographs and experiences became “the thing.” Neighbors and close friends attended dances in ballrooms in the various homes. Servants were in abundance and no one drove his own carriage or the automobile that soon replaced it.

The servants of early Janssen Place residents remember the entertaining. Naturally, many large parties were given. Sometimes on a Sunday, the families dined at the choice hotels in the area of Oak and Locust streets. But, more often, the children and grandchildren came to Janssen Place for big Sunday dinners and holiday feasting.

As the golden area of growth and prosperity passed, and the shadows of 1929 pressed own on the country, Janssen Place did not escape. Some of the people living near the area and affected by the ordinance limiting the area to single family dwellings, began to vigorously fight to change the ordinance. Times were difficult and some being forced to sell large homes could not find a buyer. It was a bitter battle between those in Janssen Place and the surrounding area pleading to preserve the homes—and a small group out to lift restrictions. Bryce B. smith, who represented the majority and lived in the area, led the fight to hold the restrictions and the suit was won.

Many homes and individuals in residence there over the years have contributed to the history of Janssen Place. One large home came under the tenantship of a widow and her young daughter. Considerable uproar developed because the neighbors objected to fifteen additional young men and women occupying the home. The widow could not understand the neighbor’s attitude because “she merely allowed her guests to contribute to her budget for the privilege of living in her home.” A suit in circuit court held in the Janssen Place owner’s favor. Janssen Place shook the dust form it’s skirts and closed in a changed, but rigidly-cut society. Friends still served luncheons and dinners and accepted the fact that a market crash had served old ties and created new ones. Large weddings and receptions were still held at home—possibly just a little less splendid than those of the previous generation. And one still died at home and many still laid there “in state before the funeral.

And then came 1939, and the beginning of World War II. Young residents left to fight for their country. Living space was at a premium and it was the patriotic thing to do to share one’s home. Those who before the war did not venture out of their social circle, opened homes and hearts to boys like their own who were away from home.

Because of the acute housing shortage, one property owner who had a son in the service moved is family into a small residence and rented his home to a larger family. One day, at a flight base in England, a young officer and an acquaintance were talking about “home” and wondering “when” and “if” they would be getting back to the state. One did not get too friendly with another in these days of sudden death . . . to have a buddy might be to mourn him—yet one had to talk. The boys were talking of their homes and the one finally mentioned that Kansas City was his home. The other officer slapped his leg and laughed—for he remembered Kansas City! “Say, do they have a ‘house’ there,” He went on to describe his misadventures and specifically where they transpired. It was with combined astonishment and chagrin that the young officer suddenly realized his conversant was speaking of the old homestead in Janssen Place! One cannot help but wonder how the neighbors missed the activity and can only assume a disinterest not compatible with the perturbation that would be evidence in present day residents.

The war did finally end and with it, a way of life. Those, whose only ways of gaining a livelihood had been in the service of others, had found new skills in defense plants or had been given new training in the Armed Services. Gasoline rationing was ended and new model cars were available. Building was in full venture and young society was moving south. Plush and exciting new areas opened up wit h homes designed by architects, who recognized the inevitable fact that most young and middle-aged couple would have only part-time help or none at all.

So once again the face of Janssen Place changed. Some for the well-to-do and substantial citizens elected to stay on in their beloved old homes despite the great changes in the area and in their way of life. Young families, delighted at the spacious rooms in Janssen Place houses, the beautiful interiors, and the lavish lawns, moved into this area where it is so nice to “raise a child.” Sometimes the aloof older residents shake their heads and speak of the “newcomers” and remember the days of chauffeurs, many servants, and social prominence in the block. But one wonders if Arthur Stilwell, with all his suave appearance and genteel upbringing, might not now say “BRAVO” to this new breed of land-gentry who do their own gardening and housework, raise their children and entertain—not as a former ear—but with bravado and zest and a desire to maintain a dignity passed down with the years. Lovely green lawns attest this fact. Owners plant new trees they will live to see tower above the street and drive. One family plants a tree each year for a child’s birthday. Two property owners “pointed up” the stone gateway at no charge to the association to keep it in fine repair. A newcomer to the area redid the Christmas scene that members of the association place on the gateway at Christmas time.

And so, Janssen Place continues to provide a stetting for gracious living as it has for nearly three-forth of a century.