Communities and Neighborhoods
In the years between 1915 and 1925, Mexican migrants such as Paula Sanchez and her family arrived at Kansas City in large numbers to work for the city’s railroad and meat packing companies. These jobs proved to be erratic and poorly paid. In addition, these newcomers possessed few resources upon their arrival, save determination and a strong work ethic. Anglo Kansas Citians worried that this group would drain the city’s resources. Several female reformers, however, banded together to form a social service organization, known as the Guadalupe Center, to aid these arrivals.
Kansas City, like other American cities, added new suburban-style developments at its edges during the early decades of the 20th century. What makes it a unique case for understanding this shift is the character of Jesse Clyde (J.C.) Nichols. Born in Olathe, Kansas, in 1880, Nichols had a career that spanned the first half of the 20th century, and included transforming thousands of acres of land into a planned suburban community.
“They did not try to build something ‘good enough for Negroes’ but something as good as money could buy.” This is how Chester Arthur Franklin, the Republican founder of The Call newspaper and one of Kansas City’s most prominent black leaders, greeted the newly constructed eight-story building that housed General Hospital No. 2, serving the indigent African American population of Kansas City. When the new building opened on March 2, 1930, national public health experts joined the local black and white communities in considering the new facility to be the finest black public hospital in the nation, even rivaling some of the best white public hospitals with its state-of-the-art equipment and modern architecture.
Nelle Nichols Peters is known as a pathbreaking female architect, designer of nearly 1,000 local buildings, and one of the most prolific architects in Kansas City during the 1920s. Despite the fact that many of these buildings still occupy prominent locations, especially near the Country Club Plaza, Nelle Peters remains a relatively obscure figure in Kansas City history.
Isaac "Ike" Katz, who would go on to found the Katz Drug Co. in Kansas City and become a pioneer in the modern pharmacy business, was born in the town of Husiatin in western Ukraine (then a part of Russia) on March 8, 1879. Ike Katz brought customers into his drug stores with a unique business model, where customers could fill prescriptions, shop for groceries, buy appliances, and even purchase exotic pets such as monkeys or baby alligators; all at cut-rate prices. At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the company boasted 65 retail locations spread across seven states.
Born in Quebec, Alfred Benjamin and his family moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he began working as a clerk at the Abernathy Furniture Company. In 1880, the company opened a branch store in Kansas City and the family moved here, where Benjamin soon became first vice-president of the company.
Social worker, teacher, pastor, scholar, civic leader—if ever Kansas City produced a Renaissance man it was the Reverend John B. Bisceglia. He was born Giovanni Battista Bisceglia on November 1, 1891, in Foggia province of the Puglia region of Italy.
Jesse Clyde (“J.C.”) Nichols was a nationally renowned city planner in Kansas City from the first decade of the 20th century to the 1950s. Among his numerous legacies are several subdivisions in suburban Kansas City, the Country Club Plaza, and the national spread of deed restrictions and homeowner associations. A prudent businessman and innovative visionary, Nichols conceived of real estate development in economic terms.
Elizabeth Bruce Crogman, who in 1925 became founder of Kansas City’s Florence Home for Colored Girls to house unwed African American women who were pregnant, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on May 1, 1894. The home functioned as the counterpart to similar organizations that served the area's white residents but denied care to young black women.
Dorothy Gallagher was born on January 8, 1894, to a wealthy Kansas City family. Not content to live quietly in affluence, Gallagher gained interest in a Catholic women’s group called the Agnes Ward Amberg Club, which carried out social work in Mexican communities in the west side of the city.
During a bright autumn day on October 1, 1933, nearly 2,000 people gathered in the shade of trees along the south side of Brush Creek to officially celebrate the opening of the University of Kansas City. Inspired speeches by Chairman of the Board Ernest E. Howard and Dr. Burris Jenkins, a prominent local minister, declared the founders' intention that the university should serve as an institution of opportunity for Kansas Citians who could not travel far away to attend college.
Elizabeth Bruce Crogman, who in 1925 became the founder of Kansas City’s Florence Home for Colored Girls (which housed unwed African American women who were pregnant), was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 1894. The home functioned as the counterpart to similar organizations that served the area's white residents but denied care to young black women. Under Crogman's guidance through the 1940s, the Florence Home for Colored Girls eventually expanded to offer counseling, education, shelter, and medical care to dozens of Kansas City's impoverished black mothers and children.
The first edition of the Kansas City "The Call," or The Call, was published on May 6, 1919. It was one of 22 newspapers published by Kansas City’s African American community near the beginning of the 20th century, but the only one that survived past 1943. Starting as an inauspicious four-page paper, the paper soon grew to one of the most successful black newspapers in the nation.
The twin terra cotta towers of the former Beth Shalom synagogue serve as a distinctive landmark for the neighborhood at 3400 the Paseo. The striking building is the only example of Byzantine architecture in Kansas City, a style that was popular for Jewish houses of worship in the 1920s. Completed in 1927, the building has won accolades from the architectural community and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave, the temperature reached a record-high 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Kansas City on August 14, 1936. These high temperatures in the summer of 1936 remain the most extreme in modern North American history. Compounding the problem, virtually no one had air conditioning in their own homes in the 1930s.