Old Photos: Kansas City 1954

I’ve used a few photos from this batch in my previous posts about the tough looks of old-time bosses,  about a day in life of a Kansas City Ford dealer (this one received a comment from someone in the photo), and about the schoolchildren visiting the Nelson-Atkins. These pictures were taken for the feature story “Kansas City and St.Louis: Picture portfolio shows some contrasts between striving city and a settled one“, published in March of 1954.

Back to back in the middle of the U.S., 235 miles apart across the state of Missouri, ate the two cities – Kansas City (pop. 456.662) and St.Louis (pop.856,796) – which together sum up a good part of America. In many ways the two are alike. Both were founded by French traders (St.Louis in 1764 by Pierre Laclede Liguest and Auguste Chouteau, Kansas City in 1821 by Chouteau’s nephew). Both are on great rivers, both lie in the same farm belt, both are famous for their newspapers and both are prospering. But in outlook and temperament the cities are radically different. Old and mellow, St.Louis reflects the East and South of the U.S.; its most prominent statue is that of Louis IX, the saintly French monarch for whom the town is named. Young and brash, Kansas City faces the wide-open energetic West; its favorite statue is of an American Indian who gazes out over the stockyards.

Nowhere is the contrast between St.Lois and Kansas City more noticeable than in civic improvement. Kansas City is eager to better itself; efforts to make St.Louis pay for its own civic health run into endless delays.

Newspaper Editor & Publisher Roy A. Roberts, sitting at desk in newspaper's newsroom.© Time Inc. Ed Clark


Kansas City’s first citizen, Star Editor Roy Roberts, whose solid, influential paper has argued for civic betterment since its founding, says, “In St.Louis the wealth is reaching the third generation, and when this happens in any town it goes dead for a while. In Kansas City we are just now making our wealth.” Kansas City uses this new wealth for civic improvement. It gladly voted $43 million in bonds in 1947. The city’s slum area is only 6% and is dwindling. Whenever the city needs to expand it annexes a neighboring area and keeps building. Once known as the most sinful town in the U.S. – a condition abetted by the late Pendergast machine – Kansas City votes on a reform administration in 1940 which cleaned it up.
Nowhere is the contrast between St.Lois and Kansas City more noticeable than in civic improvement. Kansas City is eager to better itself; efforts to make St.Louis pay for its own civic health run into endless delays.Kansas City’s first citizen, Star Editor Roy Roberts, whose solid, influential paper has argued for civic betterment since its founding, says, “In St.Louis the wealth is reaching the third generation, and when this happens in any town it goes dead for a while. In Kansas City we are just now making our wealth.” Kansas City uses this new wealth for civic improvement. It gladly voted $43 million in bonds in 1947. The city’s slum area is only 6% and is dwindling. Whenever the city needs to expand it annexes a neighboring area and keeps building. Once known as the most sinful town in the U.S. – a condition abetted by the late Pendergast machine – Kansas City votes on a reform administration in 1940 which cleaned it up.

Sunset over Missouri River. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

The Plaza, outlying shopping center, with Southwestern Spanish architecture. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

Workmen digging foundations for Hallmark Greeting Card plant within city limits. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

Southwest trafficway was planned in 1948 on the basis of state and federal grants.Construction began in 1948, road opened in 1950. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

Rivulet paved like super highway during Pendergast regime. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

Plane travelers arriving at the airport. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

North Kansas City manufacturing district. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

Industrial area around Kansas City, city in background. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

Northern city limits. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

City planning staff numbering 28 and working on a $128,000 budget is seen here considering housing development near center of town. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

Buyer and sellers looking over steers in stockyards. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

City manager L. Perry Cookingham, standing in front of the City Hall. © Time Inc. Ed Clark

  • http://donna-justme.blogspot.com/ Donna W

    Great pictures, and this is just a year or two before my family moved to Kansas City. I spent a lot of time at Municipal Airport watching planes unload, since it was only a couple of blocks from our house in Harlem.

    • Karen

      Donna W, My grandfather owned a small grocery store in Harlem. We used to walk to the airport to watch the planes, as well.

  • http://twitter.com/coderigger Code Rigger

    The Southwest Trafficway shot is surreal. I cant’ think of a time when I-35 didn’t split off from the South bound loop.

  • Anonymous

    Cool pics, as usual! I’m shocked to learn that I’m older than Southwest Trafficway. And interested to learn that North Oak once had a median (logically, since it is so wide today). I also like the shot of Oak crossing the old ASB bridge back in the day. As a child I was fascinated by the concrete creek (Brush Creek), since I came from a rural area where most roads weren’t paved. How could anyone pay to pave a creek???

    • http://kcmeesha.com kcmeesha

      Southwest Trafficway was the first picture I found from this set, it looks right and then it doesn’t because I am so used to the current view.