KC Marvels: City’s early history resides in West Bottoms

Riley Mortensen

The elegant moldings and detailing of buildings and warehouses in Kansas City’s West Bottoms make it a treasure trove for patrons looking for a memorable and historical experience. Although mostly industrial in design, the West Bottoms is one of Kansas City’s oldest and most recognized areas.

West of downtown Kansas City, close to the Missouri River, the Bottoms were first and foremost an area of trade for Indians and French trappers, thus prompting the original name, “The French Bottoms.” With the railroads coming not long after, the city flourished around the establishment of the stockyards in 1871.

The Union Depot was built on Union Street and housed bars, restaurants and hotels all called Union Street home. At the time, more than 90 percent of the value in Kansas City came from the West Bottoms.

In 1903, a disastrous flood brought an end to the many investment endeavors of schools, churches and homes, but the industrial investments of meat packing, freight and agriculture remained strong.

The pinnacle of the stockyards began when Kansas City had the second largest union stockyard in the country. The 1940s also brought World War II and Darby Steel Corporation assembled Tank Landing Crafts used in a number of invasions.

With the end of WWII, the West Bottoms took a substantial economic hit. Thousands of jobs were lost when the military no longer needed so much construction. Another big hit came in 1951 with yet another huge flood. Many companies were forced to move out and never returned. It is reported that as a result of these two events during those five or six years, around 50,000 jobs were lost. The area deteriorated over time.

Kemper Arena came in 1974 in an attempt by Kansas City and the American Royal to try to reboot the stockyards.

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