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KANSAS CITY HISTORY

Significant non-native settlement of the area dates to 1831, when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon) coming from Kirtland, Ohio and New York State purchased about 2,000 acres (8 km²) of land in the Paseo and Troost Lake areas. Conflict between the Yankee Saints and southern Missourians led to the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County in 1833.

About this time a dock was established on the Missouri River to land supplies for Westport Landing (now Westport). The land surrounding the dock was bought by "Town Company" in 1838. The area outside of Westport Landing was renamed the Town of Kansas, after the local Kanza Indians, in 1839. The town was incorporated by the state of Missouri as the City of Kansas on March 28, 1853. At the first municipal election in 1853 there were sixty-seven voters from a population of 2,500. In 1889, with a population of around 60,000, the city adopted a new charter and changed its name to Kansas City. In 1897, Kansas City annexed Westport.

The City was connected to the telegraph system in 1858, to the railway in 1864 (with a bridge crossing the river in 1869) and the first aircraft landed at the Municipal Airport in 1927.

Due to its central location, Kansas City became and remains the second largest railroad hub in the United States, ahead of St. Louis and behind Chicago, Illinois. Union Station, built in 1914, was one of the largest passenger terminals in the country. After deteriorating significantly in the second half of the 20th Century, the station was renovated in the late 1990s. It now houses a museum, theaters, shops, and restaurants, adjacent to an increasingly active arts district.

Initially, the city's major industry was cattle. By the 1860s it had one of the largest cattle markets in America. That industry peaked in the early 20th century.

The Country Club Plaza shopping district and neighborhood, begun in 1922 by developer J.C.Nichols, is dominated by the 130-foot-tall bell tower designed after the original Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain, and decorated with countless more European fountains, sculptures and Spanish architecture. Today, top stores such as Tiffany's, Coach and others have shops there, along with lively pedestrian traffic and increasingly modern architecture.

In 1880, James Pendergast, the oldest son of Irish immigrants, moved to Kansas City's West Bottoms. He worked at a local iron foundry until buying a bar with money he won from betting on a longshot horse at a local race track. From his new bar, Pendergast began networking with local leaders and soon built a powerful faction in the Jackson County Democratic Party.

Just prior to winning his first of nine terms on the city council in 1892, he summoned his youngest brother Tom from nearby St. Joseph. As Jim's health deteriorated, Tom began to utilize many of Jim's connections to lead the "Goat" faction after Jim's death in 1910. Tom succeeded Jim in the council too, but left after three terms.

In 1925, Kansas City voted in favor of establishing a city manager-based government with one city council of 12 members instead of two chambers of 32 members total, giving Tom an easier road to gaining majority control. By 1925, the Pendergast machine had established a majority, appointing a passive mayor and powerful city mananer Henry McElroy.

Pendergast's power grew during the Great Depression, creating a Ten-Year Plan bond plan aimed at putting unemployed Kansas Citians to work building civic structures that still stand, including City Hall, Municipal Auditorium, and the Jackson County Courthouse. These structures, sporting art deco architecture, were built with concrete supplied by Pendergast's Ready-Mixed Concrete company and other companies that provided kickbacks to Pendergast.

At its peak, the machine wielded considerable influence on state politics, handily electing Platte County judge Guy Brasfield Park governor of Missouri in 1932 when the Democratic candidate (Francis Wilson) died two weeks before the election. Also during this time, Kansas City also became a center for night life and music, with jazz by musicians such as Count Basie and blues (Kansas City blues) flourishing in areas such as 18th and Vine.

Violence and ganster activity proliferated during this time as well. On June 17, 1933, three gangsters attempted to free Frank Nash from FBI custody, but wound up killing him and four unarmed agents. The gansters spent the night before at the Hotel Monroe, adjacent to Pendergast's office, and received assistance in eluding a bribed police force from Johnny Lazia, a major underground figure with connections to Pendergast.

Pendergast's machine became synonymous with inflating election results by bringing in out-of-town hoodlums to vote for machine candidates repeatedly. The March 27, 1934 municipal elections (dramatized in Robert Altman's 1996 film Kansas City) resulted in nine deaths.

Tom Pendergast's power was brought down by health ailments and a determined effort by reform leaders, capped by Tom pleading guilty to tax evasion on May 24, 1939. Remnants of the machine lingered until the 1950s.

Harry S. Truman, former U.S. president, was county judge of Jackson County under the Pendergast regime, and was initially regarded in his early career as a corrupt politician because of this. However, most people came to regard him as having a great deal of integrity because of his subsequent actions in various political offices.

After years of neglect and seas of parking lots, downtown Kansas City is currently undergoing a renaissance. Many residential properties have recently been or are currently under redevelopment. A planned entertainment district is being developed in the southern part of the downtown highway loop by the Cordish Company of Baltimore, Maryland. Adjacent to the entertainment district will be a new arena, dubbed the Sprint Center, set to open in 2007. The arena, to be designed by a consortium of local architects, hopes to lure an NBA or NHL franchise to the city. Los Angeles based Anschutz Entertainment Group has invested in the arena project and will run its daily operations.

 

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