In the interest of getting something posted, this is going to be a picture-heavy, text-light entry about the walking tour of the West Bottoms neighborhood that I went on yesterday, led by the very knowledgeable Cydney Millstein, an architectural historian and preservation consultant who works in Kansas City. The vast majority of the information in this post came from her talk.
|1895 view of the West Bottoms|
You can see in this map (which sadly I have not yet found in a larger size) the way the whole neighborhood was organized inside a triangle of riverfronts and split by a huge number of railroad lines. Many of the important buildings on this map -- like the Union Depot, which was at that time the major train station in Kansas City and one of the major hubs in east-west rail traffic -- have been torn down, many after the big 1903 flood that inundated the area. The vast majority of the buildings are masonry brick buildings of Romanesque inclinations but overall very utilitarian designs.
The West Bottoms are at the bottom (thus the name) of the tall bluff that the rest of Kansas City sits on. For a large part of the neighborhood's history, it was an ongoing problem of how to get people, cars, and horse teams down into the bottoms for trade and commerce. The first solution was a cable car, built in 1888 at an 18.5% grade (more or less like a ski lift.) It was abandoned in 1905 because people hated it because it was scary. Then came the 8th street tunnel, which started 900 ft back from the bluff and moved down at a much gentler slope. This fed into the Union Depot. (One of the guys who talked to us was about seventy, and he said he remembered riding the train down over the West Bottoms and trying to hold his breath the whole way because the smell of the stockyards was overpowering.) This tunnel is still there, though blocked off to pedestrians. In 1907, the only way to get horse teams down into the Bottoms was a two-ton elevator that cost 15 cents to ride that a branch from the viaduct fed into. The current bridge, a double-deck concrete bridge with an arch over the train tracks that run below, was designed by J.A.L Waddell and John Lyle Harrington and completed in 1915. Originally there was an electric tram, a walkway for pedestrians, and a street for cars on the top deck, and a street for horse teams and heavy traffic on the lower deck.
There's a lot of advertising still visible, though most of it is no longer accurate and heavily layered from multiple repaintings over the years. There are a couple family businesses that are still down there after three or four generations, such as Faultless Starch, which makes, as you might have guessed, starch.
|The aforementioned 12th Street bridge. It's very pretty.|
|A former grocery distributor, I believe.|
|More 12th Street Bridge.|
|I wanted to show the loading platforms that a ton of these buildings had -- many of the streets had spurs from the railroad running down them right next to the buildings, so these were on level with the cars and/or trucks.|