Kansas City’s lost Lost Trolley Barn Neighborhood

Table of Contents

If you’ve ever been down to the Plaza, you may have noticed signs pointing you east toward the Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden. This lush oasis — blooming with fountains, art installations, and wildlife — is adored by visitors and locals alike. Next to it is Kauffman Legacy Park, where 10 acres of trails + waterways meet conservation efforts at the Gorman Center.

These urban gems are situated on prime KC real estate, which begs the question: How did they come to be? What if we told you the area used to be a neighborhood full of houses + businesses?

The Trolley Barn Neighborhood

The year is 1906. Amid a booming population and high transit demand, a new streetcar storage facility opened at 48th + Harrison streets (literally a garden today). Streetcar employees purchased homes around their work, and cheap land spurred the development of 150 properties by the mid-1920s.

The neighborhood’s decline

The advent of motorized buses + improved highways made the trolley system obsolete. In 1957, the streetcar facility shut down. Over the years, the facility was used for a number of purposes — the orchestra renovated it in the 60s and called it the Philharmonic Trolley Barn — but it was eventually vacated.

In 1977, Brush Creek flooded, sending five feet of water across Ward Parkway. Twenty-five people lost their lives, and extensive damage pervaded the entire Plaza area. The barn was razed a year later, and property battles — landowners vs. neighborhood associations — resulted in flight + blight.

An urban nature center is born

The former neighborhood was bulldozed and sat vacant for seven years (1990-1997). Then, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation bought the land and broke ground. Its memorial garden + park opened in 2000, and the conservation center was finished a year later.

Read more on KCQ by the Kansas City Public Library + Kansas City Star.

More from KCtoday
KC Maya Exhibition .jpg
Want to see a Mayan artifact — or 300?