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Past Glory of the Boulevard Where Dwelt the Armours PDF  | Print |

Newspaper article, date unknown, Arthur: E.R.S.

The elm trees arch high and graciously now on either side of Armour boulevard, and that never quite ceases to be a wonder to one who saw them set out as skinny little saplings, looking like feather dusters.

But the glory of the elm trees is about the only glory that is left on Armour boulevard. The pride of circumstance, the pomp of power, the gleam of spacious living, all are departed. The Armours are gone, and those which whom they dined, drove, danced and sipped afternoon tea—they, too, are gone. The hurrying passerby could not tell you even where the Armours once lived, nor probably for that matter, how the boulevard got its name.

One Armour house remains, the tall yellow brick mansion at the southwest corner of Walnut street and Armour boulevard. It was built by Andrew W. Armour, and Charles W. Armour, his son, a tall, gray, quiet man, inherited it and lived there until his death. Further east a block, at the northwest corner of Armour boulevard and Warwick, stood the more elaborate home of Kirkland B. Armour, who was president of the great packing house here when he died. Old timers called him “Kirk” Armour. He was a handsome mustached man, found of good living, and admired of women.

His house was modeled on a French chateau. It was built of cream-colored pressed brick, cut stone, had curved plate glass windows and a roof of red slate. It boasted round towers, with conical roofs; it spoke in every aspect of wealth, success, American prosperity. It stood on a lot both wide and deep, with a wall of cut stone banking the earth about it, pedestal-wise.

Glorified Barn Entrance

Behind the house stood a barn to match it, more beautiful and spacious that most persons” houses, and that barn was a place of wonder and of beauty to a little boy whose father never was more than a 2-horse doctor. For there is a certain easiness among children which enables the ones from modest homes to fraternize easily with the sons of wealth. That was why those of us who were about the age of Laurence Armour (Kirk”s son) had access to his paternal stable; gazed improper awe at the sleek horses in box stalls, at the clean floors, the oiled hooves, the harness, gleaming opulently with silver mountings. The coachman and the assistant coachmen were imposing, well-fed persons.

A little way from the barn was a large elm tree mounted on a pedestal of earth, with a circular stone wall around it. This was, indeed, the most charming thing about the whole place to small boys, for there was a steel cable sunning from a branch of the tree to the ground, and a large pulley straddled the cable, with a rope and a stout wooden bar attached to the pulley. The trick was this: You climbed the tree, seized the wooden bar firmly and coasted to the ground at what seemed like break-neck speed, only it never broke anybody”s neck.

There was an older son, a. Watson Armour, quite grown up, and a little girl, Mary Augusta, who looked as though she might have come straight out of one of those beautiful box Valentines one never could afford to buy, but yearned for nevertheless.

Across Warwick boulevard, directly to the east, where the Bellerive hotel now is, was a stone house built by Lysander R. Moore, and long since vanished to make room for more profitable and public investments. The site of the Kirk Armour mansion is vacant; it has nothing of its old grandeur except the cut-stone retaining wall, the royal house and imperial stable having been torn down to lower taxes.

At the southeast corner of Warwick and Armour boulevards one of the pioneer houses of the great survives in good condition. This is the gray stone house built by Dr. Jefferson Davis Griffith, a doughty surgeon with a military manner, a military mustache and strong Confederate sympathies. I always viewed Dr. Griffith with awe after I learned it was his habit, upon emerging from a hospital operating room, where he had been at work, to pick up the dead cigar he had left when he went in, knock the cold ashes from it, bite off and chew the charred end! What a man! The Order of DeMolay occupies the Griffith house today; the lot still runs east a block.

Originally Armour boulevard was sharply limited. The city directory of 1901 gives it as extending only between Main street and Warwick boulevard, two brief but beautiful blocks. On either side of those limitations, the boulevard still was called Thirty-fifth street in 1901.

Two houses of imposing size stood at Armour boulevard and Main street, on the west side of Main. On the northwest corner was the cut-stone and red-tile edifice built by William Taylor of the John Taylor Dry Goods company for his beautiful young wife. It was passed later into the possession of Mrs. D”Estaing Dickerson, a tall gray woman, widow of a Kansas City doctor who had made much money. Mrs. Dickerson owned one of the first French limousines ever brought to Kansas City. It was driven by a liveried chauffeur, and in the back seat sat Mrs. Dickerson, erect and a little grim in appearance, with a poodle dog which looked snootily at little boys going by on foot. At least, little boys thought so. The house survives as a day nursery for children of the runabout age.

The other house then at the southwest corner—there”s a new drug store there now—belonged to Thomas H. Mastin. It had a round massive tower on the northeast corner, and was roofed with black tiles, brought from France. The architect of this house, which was built as massively it easily might have lasted for 250 years had Nature been allowed to take her course, was Stanford White, the great new Yorker, who designed Madison Square Garden in New York, with its statue of Diana; who created the New York Life building in Kansas city, looking down Baltimore avenue from Ninth street, with a great bronze eagle over its entrance.

Stanford White, as any schoolboy could have told you thirty years ago had been killed by Harry K. Thaw, a millionaire Pittsburgh playboy, who was jealous of the architect”s attentions t Evelyn Nesbit, a beautiful chorus girl who had been a member of the Floradora sextet, a glamorous theatrical group in New York musical comedy.

It was, of course, long before Death had laid a lurid garland on the brow of Stanford White that he designed the Mastin house. It was been a good many ears, as time goes on Armour boulevard, since the house was pulled own, first for a filling station, afterward a parking lot, and not its site to be occupied by a modern building for a drug stone.

Armour boulevard”s glory was brief. It began to grow great about the turn of the twentieth century and in two decades the wealthy persons who had built ornate houses there had for the most part moved farther south, and were looking for insurance companies to buy their Armour boulevard homes. Mrs. Jacob Leander Loose, at the southeast corner of Armour boulevard and Walnut street, was successful. The Phil Toll house, at the southwest corner of Warwick and Armour boulevards, stands as a melancholy monument to unachieved ambition; remodeling of it for business purposes was started, but never finished.

One of the most beautiful relics of Armour boulevard”s glory still survives shabbily. This is the yellow brick, Dutch colonial house at the head of Walnut street on the north side of Armour boulevard. This admirably designed home was built, and occupied for a lifetime, by Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Smith. It stood as a symbol of gracious living and when Mrs. Smith”s household furnishings were sold after her death, it seemed like plundering. The green shutters which once gave the house distinction have fallen to pieces and been taken down, and the place looks bald and stark.

The one Armour house which survives, the 3-story structure at the southwest corner of Walnut and Armour, houses the Conservatory of Music today, and from its windows, especially in the summer, comes a continuous medley of student music.

Taxicabs go up and down the boulevard, where prancing horses trod. Persons who never heard of the Armours peer out eagerly, looking for lodgings in homes which once were mighty, and now are just old houses. There is one exception to that generality; at 520 East Armour lives Mrs. John F. Downing, n the home her banker husband built. [A parking lot is now at this address.]