Home PARKS & BOULEVARDS

1893 Report

Resolution of October 12, 1893
Authors George E. Kessler and August R. Meyer

In 1893 August R. Meyer and George E. Kessler presented their parks and boulevard system plan for Kansas City. Although Armour Boulevard (then called South Boulevard in the plan and Commonwealth Street) was outside the city limits, it was in the original system design. Springfield Avenue (31st Street) was partially in the southern city limits. Residential construction had already begun south of the city limits but it was haphazard.

The report describes in some detail how parks and boulevard locations were determined. There is also an extensive narrative on the topography of the city. Kessler predicted back then that there would be extensive residential development south of 31st street as the city grew. His plans for the park and boulevard system guided the high quality development of our present day Hyde Park. Without this plan, Meyer, Kessler and Delbert Haff, we would not have this wonder neighborhood to live in today.

The following are excerpts from the 1893 plan with some additional narrative that describe the topography, how Armour Boulevard was selected, describe boulevard design, and how the Hyde Park homeowners paid for the parkway and boulevards in our neighborhood.

It is interesting to note that the 1895 city charter amendment section on parks stated that no telegraph, telephone or electric light wires or other wires, or posts, or supports could be erected or placed in, upon, through or, over any park without the consent of the board and that the board shall have full power and authority to designate the place and manner of maintaining the same, may make alterations at such times and in such manner as it shall deem best for the interests of the city; and may require such wires in any park, parkway or boulevard to be laid under ground. Over a hundred years ago the board of parks commissioners recognized the blighting impact of overhead wires.

TOPOGRAPHY

Broadly speaking, the site of Kansas City consists of a plateau of a rolling, undulated surface, that rises boldly to a considerable elevation from four deep valleys: the Missouri valley on the north, the Kaw valley on the west, the Brush Creek valley on the south, and the Blue valley on the east. With a few local exceptions, the plateau presents to these valleys a bold and picturesque face of limestone cliffs and terraces. O. K. Creek, which drains into the Kaw, and Goose Neck Creek, which empties into the Blue, cut into this plateau a practically continuos valley from southwest to northeast. This valley is substantially followed by the Kansas City Belt Railroad, except that in places the railroad leaves the valley and cuts into the slopes to the south, thereby establishing a number of points where the city streets that go south on the ridges may cross the railroad tacks above grade. The valley formed by O. K. Creek and Goose Neck Creek divides the city into a North and South Side.

THE SOUTH SIDE

The South Side is a topographical enigma. Viewed from the North Side, and from a distance, it presents to the eye an unbroken though somewhat steep slopes toward to O. K. Creek valley. Close examination, however, reveals a system of ravines so intricate that a fair conception of that territory can be secured only by prolonged and repeated tours of investigation.

Between Jefferson Street, at the west, and Prospect Avenue, at the east, the bluff line is not unlike a rocky coast line, indented with deep fjords. The ravines within the limits west and east, as described, run from the south to the north, many of them with the head on the plateau almost as far south as the present city limits, and with the mouth opening towards the O. K. Creek valley. These ravines throw out numerous branches and make fantastic twists, producing a topography of an irregularity and diversity that can hardly be imagined without being seen. This region, occupying practically the entire territory between Jefferson Street and Prospect Avenue, and between the O. K. Creek valley and Springfield Avenue [31st Street], must have possessed rare beauty before it was touched by the hand of man. The attempt to place over this irregular territory a gridiron system of streets results in an appearance of raggedness that is all but indescribable.

The ridges between the ravines are high, isolated and slightly, and contain considerable land admirably suite for residence purposes, and, in fact, the better of the ridges are now so occupied. The best ridges are those occupied by Holmes, Troost, Tracy and Brooklyn Avenues. The streets that follow the bottoms of the ravines and those which, part way up the sides, cut into the slopes and climb up towards the top of the plateau at Springfield Avenue [31st Street] and south thereof, however, are mostly occupied by settlements that seem to have been sown by the whirlwind. Reasonable grades to the South Side are obtainable only on the ridges, or in the bottoms of the ravines. Between Jefferson Street and Prospect Avenue the best ridges are occupied by street–car lines; namely, on Holmes Street, Troost, Brooklyn and Prospect Avenues. The country between Grand Avenue and Holmes, and that between Holmes and Troost Avenue, is cut up and carved up in a most surprising manner, except as to isolated localities.

The ravine which opens into the O. K. Creek valley at Main Street crosses Grand Avenue and divides into a west and east branch. The western branch runs just east of Union Cemetery, closely following Locust Street [Gillham Road] south to the city limits. The eastern branch most effectually does its work of breaking up the country between Grand Avenue and Holmes Street and crosses Holmes Street at about 27th Street, so that there is but little desirable residence property left between Grand Avenue and Holmes Street, excepting the ridge followed by Holmes Street and some of the country south of 27th. Between Campbell and Harrison is the mouth of another huge ravine, which, after doing all manner of damage to the region between Charlotte and Campbell Streets north of 27th, destroys the continuity south, of land abutting upon Harrison Street, and which is a fine character north of 27th Street.

Troost Avenue occupies a handsome ridge that drops off into this ravine to the west, and into another more shallow ravine that parallels Forest Avenue to the east. Forest Avenue, although part way down this ravine, is a handsome street, and is an exception to the streets that cut along the slopes of ravines below the tops of the ridges. Vine Street occupies the bottom of a large ravine, which tears up more land probably than any other. The effect of this ravine is felt substantially between Tracy Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue (eight blocks) and between 20th Street and the city limits (eleven blocks). Its ramifications produce some beautiful, isolated ridges and sightly points, most notable among which is that upon which stands the palatial residence of Dr. Ridge. Another handsome point occurs at 26th and Brooklyn, another at Woodland and 28th, and still another at Flora and 29th. Brooklyn Avenue north of 27th Street remains on a fine high ridge, and up to that point will undoubtedly develop a fine residence section. . .

The South Side reaches its highest point and water–shed about at the present city limits. The ridge which forms the water–shed is not over three blocks wide and swings around to a connection by way of Prospect Avenue whit the high ridge just described that extends to the bluff line at the Blue, between the Goose Neck Creek and the Shuttle Run. Linwood Avenue, just south of the city limits, is almost in the center of the ridge forming the water–shed between O. K. Creek and brush Creek. From this ridge the drainage towards Brush Creek again develops erosions, but they are not so pronounced and not so deep as the ravines towards O. K. Creek. At the same time, much of the land south of Linwood Avenue is very uneven. The final drop into the valley of Brush Creek, while not very great, is still in the main precipitous and develops a number of fine limestone cliffs and limestone wall. . .

DEVELOPMENT

Such is the topography of Kansas City, diversified and intricate to a degree, abounding in many localities of a high order of natural beauty that seem only to await the treatment of the landscape engineer to become of great practical and ornamental value to the city.

Below the bluffs in the West Bottoms, and again far below the bluffs to the north, in the East Bottoms, and to a lesser extent in the O. K. Creek valley, are located the railroads and freight houses, and obtain the facilities for manufacturing establishments and for heavy wholesale houses. High above them, on the bluffs of the West, North and South Sides, are situated the lands suitable for residence purposes, absolutely secure from the encroachment of railroads and manufacturing establishments. This state of affairs will always be of inestimable advantage. The city can grow east to the valley of the Blue and south to Brush Creek and probably beyond, covering an area sufficient for a large population, without fear of railroad crossings, except as to the tracks in the O. K. Creek valley, which tracks, however, as already stated, can in many places be crossed above grade. . .

The depression which finds its deepest point in Main Street forms a natural base line for the best class of retail business. . . From the natural base line of retail business on Man Street, this business does now and will continue to spread to the streets in the east and west parallel to Main Street, and will also follow certain cross streets on the west and east, probably those which are not occupied by street–car lines and which have already assumed the character of principal avenues between the west and east. Eighteenth and 19th Streets, which have good grads, and to which the cable lines have also given the character of main thoroughfares and business avenues, are located in the center of the lands least valuable for residence sections of the North and South Sides. . .

In direct ratio to the distance from the natural business locations that have been briefly described—namely, west and east of Main, and north and south of the O. K. Creek and Goose Neck valleys—the character and value of residence property will grow, reaching therefore, by a natural process, the highest pint on the highest lands. While natural conditions have to a considerable degree led to a concentration of business in certain well defined localities, there has been no strong and decided development of residence sections in certain localities. . . Our better residences are largely planted in groups, or colonies, on certain slightly streets, and in particularly charming localities; but these colonies have not spread out and have not grown together. Between them, and around them, there exists much land utilized for small residences, small stores and miscellaneous purposes. This is no doubt due to a considerable extent, and especially so on the South Side, to the irregular topography of our city, but it is also due to the absence of any distinctive street development and construction, which would tie the slightly localities together and make them one. As has already been stated, the ridges on the South Side furnish beautiful and sightly locations for residences, but the ravines between them are occupied by cheap and unsightly structures. If on the south Side future growth should continue as it has begun, our city would in that direction be composed of alternating patches of good and poor residence localities.

PROPOSED RESERVATIONS AND CONSTRUCTION
[Boulevard and Parkway recommendations]

CONSTRUCTION OF BOULEVARDS

We purpose, on a 100–foot boulevard, a division into a comparatively narrow roadway, say forty feet, and thirty feet of parking [park land not car parking] on each side, consisting of turf and three rows of trees on each side, with a walk, say of eight feet. The object of this division is to give the whole a park–like effect, and an appearance differing radically from that of the ordinary residence streets. [The parking has been reduced in size over the years to make more roadway for cars.]. . .

FEATURES REQUISITE IN BOULEVARD ROUTES

The object of boulevard construction is two–fold; to provide agreeable driveways, and, by giving certain special advantages and a handsome appearance to such avenues, to make the abutting land, and the land near them, especially sought after for residence purposes, and thereby to enhance the value of such lands. . .

From the description of the topography of the city it is obvious that there are three principal localities where first–class residence sections can be maintained—named, on the West Side, west of the business streets, say west of Broadway; on the North Side, again towards the edge of the plateau; and on the South Side. On the South Side it will be found, by referring to the description of its topography, that there exist the following especially satisfactory localities:

The sections west and east of Penn Street ravine, certain ridges, between ravines, running from the high level of the plateau near the southern city limits north to O. K. Creek—that is, the high ridges between Holmes Street on the west and Indiana Avenue on the east; the high ridge forming the water–shed between O. K. Creek and Brush Creek; and the continuation of this ridge to the east by way of Prospect Avenue and 27th Street, following the line of the old Independence and Westport road to the Blue. To this, of course, must be added considerable property south of the water–shed between O. K. Creek and Brush Creek. This territory, however, is beyond the present city limits, and much of it is under the jurisdiction of the City of Westport, so that it cannot be considered in this report; but, owing to the fact hat no east–and–west boulevard on the South Side is possible until Springfield Avenue [31st Street] is reached, and Springfield Avenue being one–half within the city limits and other half without, we are compelled to make our selection of an east–and–west boulevard on the South Side beyond the present southern city limits. . .

SOUTH BOULEVARD

Springfield Avenue [31st Street] not being entirely satisfactory, and being located one–half without the city, and on account of the considerable development of residence sections south of the city limits, and the certainty of great future growth in this section, we have thought it best to make a selection on the South Side that would best meet future wants, although the route selected will be beyond the territory under our jurisdiction. We recommend therefore the adoption of Linwood Avenue as a boulevard, after widening to 100 feet, from its intersection with the boulevard from the North to the South Side (East Boulevard) [Benton Boulevard] and west to Lydia Avenue [The Paseo].

West of Troost Avenue, Linwood is not satisfactory, the abutting land being uneven and not of the highest class; besides it seemed to us desirable to give due weight to the important residence development at Hyde Park and the handsome ground to the east of Hyde Park, including Roanoke Addition, all of which lands are sure to be used for residence purposes in the near future. On account of these considerations, we have selected Lydia Avenue from Linwood to Sedgwick or Commonwealth Avenue [Armour Boulevard]; we then turn to the west on Commonwealth Avenue to Grand Boulevard, the southern extension of Broadway. Careful study of the locations of this route and the character of the adjacent lands will justify our selection, and show it to be the most satisfactory for an east–and–west boulevard.

Turns in a boulevard, such as the one on Lydia Avenue, from Linwood to Commonwealth, are wise where they are made in order to obtain positive advantages. Such is the case with the short turn on Lydia Avenue south. This portion of Lydia Avenue is situated on high land, commanding beautiful views to the south, west and east, and the turn secures for the entire route the best available grades. Moreover, the route as planned forms a natural basis for the development of a first–class and continuos residence section. The lands on both sides of the route are of a very high order, and, moreover, since the route occupies the high ridge immediately south of the ravines that drain off into the O. K. Creek valley, the development of a continuos and well–settled residence section on the level, or top, of the plateau will draw into it, and consolidate, the residence sections that push out to the northern the ridges between the ravines, and thereby undoubtedly the poorer class of residences will be cut off from spreading to the south, and will be confined to the uneven territory in the ravines, and in the low lands following the valley formed by O. K. Creek and Goose Neck Creek.

EAST BOULEVARD [Benton Boulevard]

Starting from the South Side towards the O. K. Creek valley, the best obtainable grade is on he ridge between Montgall and Agnes Avenues. It will be seen from the description of the topography of the South Side, that this selection of a north–and–south routs is the only local solution of the problem. The only streets that possibly might be used to the west would be Prospect Avenue, Brooklyn Avenue, or Troost Avenue. All of these avenues have street–car lies. Troost is compactly built up, so that widening would be expensive. . .

REPORT OF THE ENGINEER, George E. Kessler

BOULEVARDS

The chief objects sought in making this class of improvements are to fix for residence purposes the character of the districts through which the boulevards lead, and to provide pleasant driveways leading from populous centers through proper surroundings to points of especial interest. A reference to the general map will show that the three routes, Independence Boulevard, East Boulevard and South Boulevard, lead through some of the best residence sections of the city, and the streets to be occupied are already, in part, improved by fine residences. . . In accordance with plans approved by yourselves, the width of the boulevards at present selected will be 100 feet, and at no time should any less width be considered, since with less width it would be impossible to secure the effect of a parkway and at the same time give sufficient width of roadway. This space should be divided as follows on all routes not occupied by street railways: a central roadway forty feet wide and parking thirty feet on each side; the parked space will be arranged with a curb and gutter combines; next to this, turf seventeen feet wide, then an eight–foot walk, and between this and the property line five feet of turf. On this space three lies of trees almost equally spaced will be planted. . . The trees used on these parkways should be of such kind as experience has proven will serve best. Among these are elm, Carolina poplar, Norway maple, linden, possibly ash and soft maple; and while it would no doubt haste the time of thorough shading of the streets to use very large trees, it is best to use smaller nursery–grown trees that are much more easily established. [Armour Boulevard was planted with elms.]

HOW THE PARKS WERE PAID FOR OR AMENDMENT TO THE CITY CHARTER IN RELATION TO PARKS AND BOULEVARDS, ADOPTED JUNE 6, 1895.

In 1895 the city was divided into three park districts: "West Park District," "North Park District," and "South Park District." The South Park District boundaries were Main Street, 15th Street, and the south and west city limits. By 1916 the number of districts had been expanded to eight.

The total cost of land, improvements and maintenance in the beginning were paid for locally by assessments on property near the parks or parkways. The general scheme of payment was that: The property immediately abutting on the park, and also that on one parallel street back, on each side, pay for the cost of the land. The improvement, except planting, was paid for by the abutters. The entire cost of planting and maintenance was assessed as a supertax by the Park Board, subject to the approval of the City Council, over the entire district within which the park lies, although in the poorer districts the city often paid part of this cost. Twenty years´ time was allowed for paying the larger assessments and the assessment become a lien. These park certificates bore interest and were sold the same as bonds, the interest being 6% with the privilege of payment in full within 60 days, but where payments were delayed the interest was increased to 15%. The certificates were usually made so that the benefit tax spread over twenty annual payments, but in cases where the amount was very small the number of annual installments was reduced by one–half. Condemnation juries were used to determine fair purchase amounts.

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1 1893 Report of the Board of Park & Boulevard Commissioners of Kansas City, MO.