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A Legacy of Design–An Historical Survey of the Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Boulevards System, 1893–1940

Editors: Janice Lee, David Boutros, Charlotte R. White and Deon Wolfenbarger, Kansas City Center for Design Education and Research, in cooperation with the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Kansas City. Kansas City, Missouri, 1995


DESCRIPTION


Hyde Park lies in a small valley between the east and west roadways of Gillham Road, from 36th Street on the north to 38th Street on the south. The park consists of a narrow, south–facing valley with steep north, east, and west sides. A limestone retaining wall and two sets of stairs that lead down to two tennis courts are located on the north side. A four–foot–wide sidewalk winds through the center of the park to a play area at the south end. Groups of large shade trees cover the slopes and enclose the park on three sides.


HISTORY

History The land that is now Hyde Park originally lay in the middle of a 40–acre tract that was purchased and subdivided into high-priced residential lots in approximately 1887. The 7.8–acre non–residential section of this tract contained tangled undergrowth, steep limestone outcroppings, and a deep ravine. Property owners and real–estate investors feared that squatters would build ram–shackle homes on this undesirable section and lower property values. Hyde Park investors "turned over" the 7.8 acres to landscape architect George Kessler for improvement. Kessler transformed the narrow strip into a scenic two–block park featuring walks, shrub plantings, and seating, but retained the natural limestone outcroppings and trees. He also designed a road that curved around the edge of the park. Lots along the road were considered attractive sites for new homes and were purchased quickly.

In the 1890´s Hyde Park became an informal country club—and the predecessor to the Kansas City Country Club—as residents laid out tennis courts, croquet grounds, and archery ranges on the grounds. The residents also established a golf course along Gillham Road. The park was enlarged in 1899 when Charles Hubbard donated property between Thirty-sixth and 38th Streets and McGee and Oak Streets for park purposes.

Further improvements occurred after 1902, when the Board of Park Commissioners acquired Hyde Park as part of the condemnation of Gillham Road and incorporated the park into the Gillham road right–of–way. In 1907 a comfort station was built near 37th Street, the south end of the park was graded and seeded, and surplus trees were transplanted to Harrison Boulevard. A limestone wall was built on the north side of Gillham Road, east of McGee Street, in approximately 1911. The park board approved plans in 1914 for an ornamental terrace, a fountain, and steps, but the estimated $20,000 project was not implemented due to the lack of funds. In the 1980´s the comfort station was removed and other improvements were made, including the rebuilding of the tennis courts and the wall at the north end of the park. In 1987 the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association planted an oak tree at the southwest corner of the tennis courts in honor of the 100th birthday of the park.

INTEGRITY

Hyde Park retains its integrity of location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The property boundaries date from 1887, six years before the comprehensive parks and boulevards plan. The topography, the many mature trees, and the other built elements preserve much of the park´s historic setting and provide the feeling of an earlier time and place. The design is still intact. Original materials and workmanship survive in the limestone retaining walls and the stairs to the tennis courts at the north end.

SIGNIFICANCE

Significance Hyde Park is significant in the area of landscape architecture as the first Kessler–designed valley park anchoring a residential neighborhood. Hyde Park demonstrated how design could transform a difficult piece of land into an asset. The new park raised property values and provided a lasting recreational resource for the neighborhood.

In the area of community planning, Hyde Park is significant as an important residential park that was developed privately before becoming a city park. Hyde Park is also significant for becoming, after its absorption into the Gillham Road right–of–way, part of the "chain of parks" projected in Kessler´s 1893 parks and boulevards plan. The successful merging of a boulevard with existing park land provided an example of how to preserve an important cultural feature.