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View of the West Bottoms: 8th & Jefferson

West Bottom
View of the West Bottoms in the late 19th Century
shows importance of railways and warehouses

The view from Case Park offers a dramatic view of the old industrial warehouse, transportation and commercial center of Kansas City. From its beginnings, and probably from prehistoric times, the confluence of the Kaw and Missouri Rivers has served to bring together vast geographical trading zones.

Originally the area was heavily residential: a first stop for poorer workers, especially immigrants and blacks. Around the turn of the century, they were crowded out by packinghouses and warehouses.

Recently demolished, the stockyards were second in size only to those of Chicago. Similarly, KC was second in the extent of railroad transportation and soap manufacturing (in the Armourdale District on the Kansas side). Many of the warehouses in the Bottoms are more than 100 years old. Because of its importance as a center of the grain (especially wheat) trade, milling has been a major industry. Kansas City Municipal and Fairfax Airport (now demolished) served air traffic, and the new General Motors auto plant (to the northwest) is partially on the old airport site.

The Pendergast political machine had its origins in the Bottoms, after "Alderman Jim" established The American House Hotel and a saloon just off Union Avenue called The Climax where poor Irish workingmen could congregate. His saloon served as a kind of bank where workers could cash their paychecks - a practice that survives to this day in the area. But it also functioned as a kind of social welfare agency (Jim gave gigantic Christmas dinners, free coal and other handouts to the needy) and as a base for the rising Pendergast Democratic political machine.

Alderman Jim's wasn't the only saloon around. Union Avenue, where Union Station stood until 1914, was in the early 1900s a kind of Wild West Boulevard. One block in the Bottoms was known as the "Wettest Block in the World". It had 24 buildings of which 23 were saloons!

The statue in Case Park memorializes the role of Jim Pendergast in Kansas City's history, and nearby, a Hereford bull mounted on a tall pedestal serves as a symbol of the role of livestock in our social and economic life.

West Bottom 1992
View of West Bottoms, 1992.
The tour began with an orientation by Fred Whitehead
on the Kansas City's past and present as a transportation,
warehousing, and processing hub.

 


 
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