Oldest parts of KC parks system now on National Register of Historic Places

Earliest KC parks and boulevards listed on National Register of Historic Places

The Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District includes Kessler Park, Penn Valley Park, Parade Park and seven connecting boulevards.
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The Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District includes Kessler Park, Penn Valley Park, Parade Park and seven connecting boulevards.

The core elements of Kansas City’s parks and boulevard system are now recognized with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

City leaders on Wednesday celebrated the inclusion of a historic district comprising three of the city’s earliest parks and seven of its boulevards. Such a large district listing is unusual.

“It’s not your typical nomination, by a long stretch,” said historical consultant Cydney Millstein, who prepared the paperwork along with landscape architect Paul J. Novick.

The historic district includes Kessler Park on the bluffs above the East Bottoms, Parade Park on the Paseo south of Truman Road, and Penn Valley Park. The boulevards are Independence, Gladstone, Linwood, Armour, Benton, Broadway and the Paseo.

Parks officials announced the listing in front of the memorial at 10th Street and the Paseo to August R. Meyer. He was the first president of the park board and hired landscape architect George E. Kessler. In 1893, Kessler outlined a system of parks connected by graceful boulevards and parkways. It became a model of what was called the City Beautiful movement.

Kansas City’s topography was considered problematic for development, but Kessler used it to advantage.

“We use the terminology a city within a park,” said park board commissioner David Mecklenburg. “This (register listing) codifies that statement.”

Park commissioner Allen Dillingham said the listing honors a system “that is quintessential Kansas City” and a defining brand for more than a century.

Commissioner Mary Jane Judy said the listing also includes 41 structures and features in the parks and on the boulevards, such as the pergola on the Paseo.

The listing provides another layer of protection in addition to the city’s development code and the stewardship of the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners. It will not affect the Urban Youth Academy project in Parade Park, in which the city is partnering with Major League Baseball. Nor will it affect plans to remake the intersection of the Paseo and Independence Boulevard.

Park Director Mark McHenry said being listed on the national register can also help in applying for grants and other benefits. The building in Parade Park that houses the Black Archives of Mid-America, for example, was renovated with historic tax credits that were made possible because the structure was on the national register.

The Kansas City Museum on Gladstone Boulevard and the Liberty Memorial in Penn Valley Park are also already on the national register.

Former park board Commissioner Anita Gorman attended Wednesday’s announcement.

“I think we’re so lucky to have the park and boulevard system that we have,” she said. “Not every town’s got this.”

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC