Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ephemeral city: Transit map

The map was hanging in a local antique mall, framed and priced appropriately for an 80-year-old artifact of this town's golden age of mass transportation. It shows no date, but there are clues among its "Points of Interest."

Municipal Auditorium exists (opened late 1935) as does the old city hall at Fourth and Main. The county courthouse is at 12th and Oak, across from "site, new city hall" (dedicated 1937). And the ballpark at 22nd and Brooklyn is Muehlebach Field (its name until 1937). So the map would appear to document the system of 1936-37, complete with its golden-age statistics:

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I had to have it, of course. It provides a nice contrast to a map I already own that shows the five remaining streetcar lines of 1951, six years before busses began a reign of nearly sixty years. Tracks then vanished. Most were ripped up, but not all.

Every so often, usually during the freeze-and-thaw of pothole season, the old system arises here and there. Recently a remnant of rusty rail found sunlight at the corner of 43rd and Warwick, near the Kansas City Art Institute. 

My new 1930s map places this on the Independence Avenue–Rockhill–Swope Park line. Back then this route covered more than 13 miles, from the corner of Independence and Hardesty west into downtown, south along Walnut and Main to 43rd street, then east and south to Swope Park.

It's worth contemplating the "points of interest" along this route in today's Kansas City: the zoo and Starlight Theater, UMKC, the Nelson-Atkins Museum and KCAI, Liberty Memorial and Crown Center and Union Station, the Crossroads and P&L District, a variety of world-food restaurants along Independence Avenue, and an amazing array of residential neighborhoods overall.

Meanwhile, workers have spread a fresh patch of asphalt at 43rd and Warwick, putting that rusty old rail back to sleep for now. Even as streetcars have found new life in Kansas City.

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