Heart of the City
… or at least it was once the heart of the city.
West Bottoms History
The West Bottoms is an industrial area immediately to the west of downtown Kansas City, Missouri at the confluence of the Missouri River and Kansas River. The area is one of the oldest areas in the city.
The West Bottoms was originally referred to as the “French Bottoms”. It was the site of trade between French trappers and Kansas Indians. The area was established by the trappers as an area of commerce. The West Bottoms became the receiving point for goods offloaded from steamships traveling upstream on the Missouri river due in part of the western immigration and trade with Mexico over the Santa Fe Trail. The importance of the area increased with the advent of the railroad. The stockyards (established in 1871) then chose to develop there because of the livestock that came in from the Southwest over the rails. A whole city grew around the stockyards. The Union Depot was built on Union Street where hotels, bars and restaurants flourished. Over 90 percent of the value in Kansas City lay in the West Bottoms. A devastating flood in 1903 ended the investment in housing, schools and churches. However, the agricultural, meat packing, freight and industrial investments continued to grow. By then the rule of thumb was clearly established namely the economic vitality of the city was determined by the economic progress of the West Bottoms.
The stockyards flourished through the 1940s and at its peak only the Union Stock Yards in Chicago were bigger. During World War II Darby Steel Corporation built most of the Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs) that were used in various amphibious invasions. The plant built one craft a day and floated them more than 1,000 miles down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, Louisiana prompting their “Prairie Ships” nickname. Darby’s plant at the mouth of the Kansas River could hold eight 135i LCTs and 16 LCMs (Landing Craft Mechanized) in various stages of development.
With economic hard times the West Bottoms took a drastic hit. The first economic blow came with the ending of World War II. There were over 20 thousand jobs lost when the extensive military construction in the city suddenly ceased. The second economic blow came in 1951 with a major flood. Packing companies and supportive industries moved out of the area and many closed their doors forever. The combination of these two events was cataclysmic. There were 50,000 jobs lost in the span of 5-6 years and the city was half the size it is now. With the job loss people stopped shopping downtown. With the economic downsizing the city slipped and was unable to save itself and collapsed. Because the city’s tax base crumbled it could no longer maintain its streets, bridges or engage in meaningful investments.
In 1974 Kansas City and the American Royal tried to reclaim the stockyards by building Kemper Arena. The stockyards biggest heritage is the annual 6-week American Royal agricultural show held each October and November at Kemper Arena. Kemper Arena was also the site of the 1976 Republican National Convention where Gerald Ford was nominated for President. Along with the building of Kemper Arena there have been many buildings constructed and several multi-million dollar companies have set up shop in the West Bottoms area. This redevelopment has begun to attract upscale and artistic tenants to redevelop buildings and helping reestablish the West Bottoms area. —Story borrowed from The West Bottoms Business District website.
It is the “artistic tenants” that draw me to the West Bottoms these days, particularly on First Friday. These photographs were taken through one of the artist’s metal window coverings at the Bottom’s Up Antique Market.
February First Friday ended with a birthday wish (not mine)… at Manny’s of course!