Monday, March 28, 2011

Kansas City

In March of 2011, I went on a trip to Kansas City Missouri. Keeping clear of the usual tourist traps and safer well lit areas, I went straight to work exploring the more interesting parts of town. I was not disappointed.

But first, we had to sleep. We had arrived in town in the evening and planned on meeting some strangers in a cave. The only exciting thing about the drive was the anticipation of impending adventure in a town neither of us had been to before. Well, I had driven through (and flown back from it) in another life a long time ago, but this was the first time as an adult in which KC was my destination and I was the pilot. As boring as the drive was, I love having my wheels pointed at "new" cities. This was coupled with the fact that I had my girlfriend along, whom I'd only just entered into a relationship with a year prior. New love and new adventure was in the air and I was glad to be able to share the experience with her. We parked with the rest of the cars, not really knowing what to expect, and dragged our things towards the entrance. We were going to sleep in the cave and head out in the morning.

When we got inside, things got strange. Strange, even compared to the idea of sleeping in a cave as being normal. That's not to say outright strange in the form of tangible things I could concretely describe here, rather it was strange in the sense of losing your senses to the darkness. The cave was gigantic and the group was supposed to be somewhere way in the back. I'd say we were walking for a solid ten minutes before we located anyone else inside, all the while fighting with the mud and gravel as we dragged our gear deeper into the earth. Smells of smoke and crazy echoes of laughter and screams bounced around through the giant subterranean halls, intensifying as we progressed onward. It seemed as though we were venturing towards madness itself. Along the way, columns of rock did their best to hold up the ceiling and after passing a few of them we lost our sense of direction, aided only by the expertly placed candles which stood out as beacons for underground travelers. Eventually we perceived silhouettes huddled around a fire in this very remote corner of the earth. Like ancient cave dwellers, our purpose here was that of performing a necessary ritual, one from which we would all benefit and that which would please the gods through our solemn offerings. We introduced ourselves and for the first time I properly met lots of explorers from cities outside of Saint Louis. I would forget most of their names.

This venue is easily my new favorite. Down here, there's no connection to the outside world. Hours pass by secretly when there's no sun or moon to set the time by. We all talked and told stories and were all in various stages of intoxication. This experience reminded me of times past, especially that of being a teenager in the 90s and living each day without all the modern technological conveniences the 2000's brought. No cell phones, no internet-just us, the alcohol and this forgotten and dangerous place. Not since the mid 90s had I so vividly recalled that feeling of isolation and wonder. Back when we explored whatever we happened to find with nothing but a flashlight. No phones to call in case of emergency. All those feelings came back and I was truly grateful to be alive, to be down there and to remember what it felt like to do this more than a decade ago. And as the night progressed the outside world drifted further away as the underground madness crept deeper into our collective psyche. All manner of laughter, screams and unintelligible conversations carried on into the morning. This was Fear and Loathing in Kansas City.

The fire swallowed many strange objects that night and the smoke of our offerings increasingly choked the cave. Off a ways from the side of the path, we setup sleeping bags, pillows and candles on the cold, hard ground. Strange visions went through my head as I tried to sleep with all the unexplainable echoes bouncing around the cave all night and into the morning.


Western Seminary

The building known today as the Western Seminary was constructed in approximately 1909 from funds ($25,000) donated by Mrs. Margaret Clock Armour, widow of Simeon Brooks Armour of the famous Armour Meat Packing Company. The building was originally christened "The Margaret Klock Armour Memorial Home for Aged Men and Women" and was operated by the Women's Christian Association of Kansas City who constructed the Gillis Orphan's home on the same tract of land. A bronze tablet was hung in the entryway during the home's dedication by Mrs. Armour which read "At evening time, it shall be light". The land on which it was built had been donated by "Colonel" Thomas H. Swope, whose death had become a highly publicized murder trial. Swope was a wealthy real estate magnate and philanthropist and was the largest indiviual landowner in Kansas City. His physician, Dr. Hyde, was believed to have poisoned him with strychnine in an attempt to inherit some of his vast wealth (Dr. Hyde was married to one of Swope's neices).

The Armour Memorial Home, along with the Orphan's Home, were receiving widespread support in the community due to the positive social impact these facilities were making. As a result of their success, these buildings were filled to capacity by the mid 1920's and they had a waiting list of more than 100. At about this time, the Western Negro College offered $25,000 to purchase the property. This sum was sufficient for the homes to relocate to a comfortable 26.5 acres, a site in which they still inhabit today.

The Western Negro College had formed in the late 1880's and had moved between a variety of locations before finally purchasing this land in 1926 from the WCA. The College was forced to close its doors in the height of the depression for the school years of 1935-1936, after which time it was reorganized and renamed in 1937 as the Western Seminary. Eventually, the College would operate solely out of the old Orphan's home thus abandoning the old Memorial Home which still bears their name.

Source(s): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Holy Name Catholic Church

Holy Name Catholic Church was one of the founding churches of the Southeast portion of Kansas City during its second major reisdential expansion. It was also one of the largest built in the Kansas City area. The location selected for Holy Name was a major hill in one of the highest growth areas on the edge of the expanding city.

This church was plagued from the beginning, however, with continuous financial difficulties. The basement was completed in 1911, but the financial problems halted construction. A temporary roof was put over the basement and it sat this way for 13 years before the congregation would receive their necessary funds, mostly from donations and money from selling other land. Construction was finally resumed in 1924 and the church was dedicated on June 3rd, 1928.

Most of the population in the surrounding neighborhood was that of a white middle class. However, in around 1911, several African American families moved in and were immediately received with death threats. The neighborhood became unsettled after a series of conflicts and some explosions, culminating in a demographic shift from white upper and middle class to poorer whites and African Americans, especially after the 1948 Supreme Court ruling outlawing racial discrimination. Holy name developed programs in an attempt to serve the community and provide an alternate means of income. Among these, the church created a Credit Union, Radio Station and even installed a bowling alley in the basement. In 1951, due to increasing financial strains, Holy Name integrated with Holy Spirit Parish, an African American Parish. By the late 50's, the Parish was over 68,000 in debt. But the worst was yet to come.

Rising racial tensions in the area were further fueled by the assanation of Martin Luther King, Jr in April of 1968, which sparked riots in may other cities. But the violence didn't spill over in Kansas City until later. On April 9th, the Kansas City school distric went ahead with classes while other area schools closed in observance of King's funeral. That morning, over two hundred students left to join a march held by another local school. Once the Police Chief learned of the march, the decision was made to move the force into a tactical alert as part of a riot control plan. Reports of vandalism soon followed, including overturned cars and broken windows. When the marchers met with police, they were promptly sprayed with mace.

At noon, a local radio station, the nation's first black owned station west of the Mississippi, announced that a dance would be held at Holy Name and the protesters would be ferried to the church (in an attempt to calm the protestors) from the steps of City Hall at which they were now gathered. This didn't work as planned and violence broke out at City Hall.

Police arrived at Holy Name, following reports of a disturbance. They were met by students outside who threw rocks at them. The police attempted to break up the crowd outside the church and, assuming rioters were taking refuge in the church, shot teargas into the basement where it turned out there were about 400 black teens gathered. This further added to the ongoing riot situation. The riots lasted until some time around April 11th. Over one hundred people had been arrested. It is said that six people died and about 150 fires were set.

The church attempted to return to its former community service function as before, but the maintenance costs were becoming a burden to a dwindling neighborhood. The church was sold several times before ultimately being abandoned sometime in mid-1980.

Holy Name was purchased in 2001, with the stated intention of a complete restoration but the restoration never happend. Unfortunately, in 2011, Holy Name Catholic Church was demolished.

Source: National Records of Historic Buildings Nomination form

This is easily one of my favorite churches ever. Unfortunately, it was demolished shortly after these photos were taken.

The Castle

The castle is a former prison which was built by inmates in 1897. It was used as a prison only until 1911 after which time it housed various public works departments. It was abandoned in the 1970's.


  1. Good finds! Where's the first two locations?

  2. Love the stories your photos tell.
    Please do a series on kansas city's SANTA FE are neighborhood!!! Please. There is so much history there

  3. I would love to know more about "the castle " is it located in kc,mo or kc,ks??