Historic West Bottoms on Stage This Week

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The historic West Bottoms has had many lives throughout Kansas City history, the latest being a flea market destination on weekends.

By Kim Mueller

Put on your hiking shoes, and rediscover the West Bottoms as city leaders celebrate its past and envision its future in several walking, biking, boating and busing tours beginning Thursday.

Kansas City Historic Preservation Officer and Editor Brad Wolfe will lead a tour of the West Bottoms Tuesday, May 1, including several sites listed in the Historic Preservation Commission’s book “Kansas City: A Place in Time.”

For the $20 ticket, guests can marvel at the Romanesque arches on the C.C. Murdock building, gape at the iconic Live Stock Exchange Building, and peer up at the ornately carved rams’ heads at the Kansas City Drovers Telegram Company.

But be prepared for some extra tidbits. Wolfe said he plans a few surprises that he couldn’t fit into the book.

“The book really just touched on a couple of sites,” Wolfe said. “I also want to add some general history. West Bottoms is the early settlement area of Kansas City. Everything really developed at the river’s edge.”

Located west of downtown, West Bottoms is squeezed between the Missouri River and 23rd Street, bookended by State Line and Beardsley Roads, and bisected by Interstate 670.

Native Americans and trappers traded in the area originally referred to as The French Bottoms before railroads arrived in the 1860s and the stockyards appeared in 1871.

In 1903, a devastating flood wiped out the area’s churches, homes and schools, which were quickly replaced by warehouses for agriculture, baking, trade and livestock.

The Union Depot and many hotels closed, ultimately changing the area’s personality as the residents fled and industry moved in.

The Live Stock Exchange building was once the bustling hub of a huge meatpacking industry in Kansas City.

Another large flood came in 1951, forcing many companies to permanently move out.

Over the next several decades, the area deteriorated despite attempts by Kansas City and American Royal to reinvigorate life into the stockyards by building the Kemper Arena in 1974.

Finally, a major flood in 1993 washed away the last vestiges of the massive stockyard pens, Wolfe said.

Wolfe said his 1 1/2 hour tour will leave at 5:30 pm from E.J.’s Urban Eatery, 1414 W Ninth St., and finish at The Ship, 1217 Union Ave, a restaurant and lounge that boasts its own flavorful history including questionable patrons and interesting restorations.

Tickets are available through the Kansas City American Planning Association’s event webpage.

But Wolfe’s tour isn’t the only West Bottoms tour in town.

West Bottoms Reborn project is leading several free tours beginning Thursday to Sunday as well as hosting area art events from Saturday to June 30.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the project’s goal is to have local artists and designers work with community developers as they reform and rejuvenate the West Bottom’s area.

The West Bottoms Reborn series starts with several tours Thursday:

-“Sight Unseeing” at 5:30, 7:30 and 8:30 pm involves participants wearing blindfolds and listening to the environmental sounds.

-“Soundscapes of West Bottoms” at 5:30 pm features UMKC’s IMP ensemble embedding location sounds into orchestral strings, brass, keyboards, noise, and Hip-Hop beats.

-“The Disappearance of Turkey Creek” from 7 to 8 pm investigates the geology, geography, and culture of the Turkey Creek Sewer.

-“Keep Out! The Pursuit to Catalog Architectural Afterlife” from 8:30 to 9:30 pm explores the subculture of historical adventurers.

On Friday, The West Bottoms Reborn project also includes a Turkey Creek Diversion Tunnel unique boat tour, plant identification walk, and bike ride. Participants can take a river walk Saturday.

The complete event schedule, age restrictions and registration requirements can be found here.

Devastating floods during its history has robbed the West Bottoms of its economic importance over the years.

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