All Around Town: True of False? Five facts and myths about Kansas City

Nathan Zoschke

#1 The Plaza isn’t safe anymore

Status: False

Safe and unsafe are relative terms, but the Plaza is no more crime-ridden than any other shopping destination or entertainment district in Kansas City.

Crime mapping on the Kansas City Police Department website,, shows the Plaza is actually one of Kansas City’s safest neighborhoods.

In addition, the Plaza is patrolled 24/7 by Highwoods Security.

Media reports of unruly youth and flash mob violence on the Plaza led to strong public reactions. However, such incidents have been isolated occurrences. The number of teens and pre-teens on the Plaza on evenings and weekends is believed to have increased after the Cinemark Palace eliminated its age restriction.

Prompt action by the city council was taken following a triple shooting in August, and included a stricter curfew.

Furthermore, upscale retailers, including Sur la Table, H&M, Kate Spade and Michael Kors have all either recently opened or are in the process of opening stores on the Plaza. It is doubtful any of these retailers would locate in a high-crime area.

#2 Kansas City has more fountains than any other city, except Rome

Status: Unverifiable

The Transit Plaza Fountain at 11th and Main streets downtown.
The Transit Plaza Fountain at 11th and Main streets downtown.

This one’s hard to prove.

Kansas City holds its fountains near and dear.

The City of Fountains Foundation, a local group dedicated to preserving Kansas City’s fountains, has officially counted more than 200 fountains throughout the metro area. And that number is understated, because the foundation’s count excludes subdivision markers and fountains inside privately owned buildings.

It appears no other city has an official count, so Kansas City’s claim appears to be uncontested by virtue of indifference. And for that matter, Kansas City may have more fountains than Rome.

Kansas City’s reputation as the “City of Fountains” can be traced to August Meyer and George Kessler, two urban planners from the 1890s credited with bringing the City Beautiful Movement to Kansas City.

Both men, having traveled extensively throughout Europe, sought to transform the burgeoning, but aesthetically lacking, cow town into a beautifully-manicured metropolis with “more boulevards than Paris and more fountains than Rome.”

#3 Kansas City is infamous for organized crime

Status: True

The roots of the Kansas City mafia can be traced to John Lazia, who operated a power bootlegging ring during the Prohibition years of the 1920s and early `30s. Lazia’s gang was ignored by the corrupt machine of Tom Pendergast, a powerful political boss who rigged elections and rewarded city contracts to his own companies.

However, rumors that Pendergast buried his political foes in concrete lining Brush Creek are false.

In 1933, a mass shooting outside Union Station occurred when convicted bank robber Frank Nash was transported from Arkansas to the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.

As Nash was escorted from a train to a police vehicle in the parking lot, a car carrying three passengers, one of whom is rumored to be Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, drove up and fired shots.

Five, including Nash, were killed, and two more were wounded.

In the 1970s, three buildings in the River Market area were bombed as a result of infighting between the Civella mafia family.

Several years later, a federal wiretap investigation revealed a conspiracy to skim money from the Tropicana Casino in Las Vegas. In 1981, Civella and other Kansas City mobsters were indicted by a federal grand jury.

Last year, rumors of the mob reemerged after a federal grand jury indictment of an Internet gambling scheme involving members of the Civella family. However, prosecutors did not give the case an “organized crime” label.

#4 Kansas City is a cow town

Status: False

The American Hereford Association bull statue overlooks the West Bottoms.
The American Hereford Association bull statue overlooks the West Bottoms.

Gates’ Burnt Ends are a Kansas City cultural icon, but the meat is imported from elsewhere.

The last stockyards closed in 1991.

A more accurate statement would be that Kansas City was a cow town.

Aside from the American Royal, American Hereford Association bull statue and Live Stock Exchange Building, there are few remnants of the once-massive stockyards that covered the West Bottoms.

The Kansas City stockyards opened in 1871 with 13 acres. By 1883, that number had increased to 130, with stockyards in the West Bottoms on both sides of state line near the convergence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers.

In the peak year of 1923, 2,631,808 cattle were received at the Kansas City stockyards. By then, the stockyards had expanded to include 238 acres.

But in 1951, a massive flood wreaked havoc on the West Bottoms, and the livestock industry never recovered.

However, several agribusiness companies, such as General Mills, ConAgra and ADM, continue to operate plants in Kansas City.

#5 Kansas City does not control its police department

Status: True

Not only is this true, it was also a major issue in the spring municipal election. The only other American city lacking local control of its police force: St. Louis.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners includes the mayor and four members appointed by the governor, who are responsible for the operations of the KCPD. Otherwise, the city has little say.

The transfer of authority from Kansas City’s municipal government to the state occurred in 1939 in response to events described in fact #3, namely the corruption of the Pendergast machine.

Today, the issue has resurfaced.

A bill authorizing local control of the St. Louis police department passed the Missouri House, and if approved by the Senate, would leave Kansas City as the only city in the U.S. without local control of its police.

Mayor Sly James has taken a middle-of-the-road position on the issue.

“State control of the police in itself is not the problem,” James said at a Sept. 16 town hall meeting at Pierson Auditorium. “When not having local control leads to dysfunctional relations between the police department and the city, that’s the problem.”

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