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curiousKC: What Did Union Hill Look Like Before Redevelopment?

In the mid-1980s, developers had a plan to ‘revitalize’ a once crumbling Victorian neighborhood. Thirty years later, they succeeded.

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Above image credit: This 1973 Hallmark illustrative guide highlights a few of the city's key points and major districts of the time. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)

It’s been more than 30 years since Union Hill was given a facelift. 

For those familiar with how the Union Hill revival came to be, it first began when President Ronald Reagan was in office. The transformation would then take about three decades to shape up.

In the end, a rundown 19th century neighborhood turned into a thriving node of new and renovated apartments and single-family homes. 

It turns out a curious Kansas Citian by the name of Bill Taft lives in one of those homes built in 1985. 

“What did Union Hill look like before everything was torn down?” Taft asked, specifically wondering about the areas near Main and 30th streets. 

Before we get to the “show” portion of this show-and-tell, here’s the abbreviated “tell” on how the development plan unfolded. 

In the 1970s through early ‘80s, city leaders and developers grew concerned as, right down the street, Crown Center began to boom in stark contrast to the old Union Hill neighborhood. 

The area was first established in the late 1890s with ornate Victorian-style homes. But from the 1940s through 1960s, crumbling buildings and blight set in. 

As former Kansas City Star reporter Kevin Collison wrote, “the late-19th-century housing stock of the neighborhood was in bad shape.” 

So Bob Frye and his brother, with the assistance of city-approved tax incentives, began their journey to revitalize “the heart of the neighborhood — one of Kansas City’s oldest,” as the late Kansas City Business Journal reporter Rob Roberts wrote in 2014.

Now it’s time for the show. Take a virtual tour of Victorian-era Union Hill and the neighborhood’s evolution. The majority of the images below were provided by Kansas City Public Library’s Missouri Valley Special Collections with additional information provided by Kansas City Business Journal, the Kansas City Star, Midtown KC Post and archived news clips.


A Union Hill Slideshow

  • A map from 1895/1907 shows early Kansas City's Union Hill as it began to develop.
  • A map here entitled "1909-1957" shows the evolution of the area in Union Hill.
  • Dated 1926, this is a look at the neighboring area where Gillham Road intersects through Union Hill.
  • The area became known for its automobile businesses, at some point dubbed "Ford's corners." Car distribution companies would blossom and thrive along Gillham and 29th and 30th Streets, according to a Midtown KC Post report. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • A group of white men pose for a portrait in front of a car in the 1940s. A look at one of the companies that existed in Union Hill, Reid-Ward Packard Motor Company. According to archive notations, "once located at 2735 Main Street. The building was owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc and was razed in 1986." (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • This 1973 Hallmark illustrative guide highlights a few of the city's key points and major districts of the time. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • Pictured here is a home being built in 1980, on 2933 Walnut St. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • Now begins the tour of Victoria-style homes. In what follows, you may notice renovations and some may begin to appear dilapidated. This one is called the Islandora House. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • This home is located at 2937 Walnut St. and was one of the few homes saved during demolition for redevelopment. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • This home is located at 3011 Grand Ave.
  • This home sits at 3022 Grand Avenue. "The house, which has been known as the Joseph A. Stringer Residence after the original owner, was built circa 1889, and underwent major renovations around (the) time this photo was taken," according to library archives. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • Pictured in the early 1980s, this home at 3030 Grand Avenue was "Built circa 1889, the house has been known as the Clayton J. Bell Residence after the original owner," according to library records. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • The Union Hill Arts center was housed at 3013 Main Street. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)
  • As we wrap up the virtual tour, we wanted to leave you with the final fact of the day: Union Hill began to blossom around the cemetery, according to historical accounts. (Missouri Valley Room Special Collections)

Vicky Diaz-Camacho covers community affairs for Kansas City PBS. 

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