Monday, March 23, 2015

Lost to the age of traffic

Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Mo.
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If you lived along Summit Street in the Valentine neighborhood as winter turned to spring 1950 you were about to witness the end of the relatively peaceful world as you knew it. Sixty-five years ago today your immediate future included the violent beginnings of a six-lane makeover.

On Thursday, March 23, 1950, Kansas City was a town awaiting baseball. The Blues were close to the end of spring training in Florida, where a young shortstop named Mickey Mantle was trying to make the team. The weekend promised the 1950 Auto Show at Municipal Auditorium, Burl Ives ("America's Mightiest Balladier") performing twice daily. The headliner at the Hotel Bellerive's nightclub, El Casbah, was a "Witty, Dazzling Pianist"  named Liberace. Bagdad, starring Maureen O'Hara and Vincent Price, was reopening the Highway 40 Drive-in for the season, though it would be chilly yet for outdoor movies.

Today, though, brought temperatures in the 60s, perfect for starting the job the J. Shaw Coal and Material Company had been hired to do: widen Summit from four lanes to six, in the process ripping out mature trees and decades-old streetcar tracks. Up until four days ago cars of the 57 Roanoke line had rumbled over these tracks on their circuit from Ninth and Wyandotte to 45th and State Line.

The overarching project was the long anticipated Southwest Trafficway, the first of the region's broad concrete ribbons that eased (and encouraged) an ever increasing flow of private autos. It would link downtown to the affluent southwestern residential neighborhoods, from 14th street to Ward Parkway. After crossing a new viaduct it would run primarily along Summit but with connections to Belleview and Madison. It would require clear-cutting several homes in less privileged neighborhoods on the West Side and near Westport Road.

As I noted in Kansas City 1940, the Southwest Trafficway opened in November 1950. The Star called it "a monumental thing, a structure of the new traffic age." At the ribbon cutting the first two motorists received government bonds as prizes. Hard to say whether anyone caught the irony when they turned out to be from Lee's Summit and Shawnee, both far-flung suburbanites.

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In memory of the pre-trafficway era, here is that witty and dazzling piano player:

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