Beautiful Dreamer

Meyer Memorial fountain at Meyer and Ward Parkway
Meyer Circle fountain

Kansas City lost its lead proponent of the park and boulevard movement on December 2, 1905, with the death of August Meyer. Meyer was born in St. Louis in 1851 to German immigrant parents. As a young adult, he studied engineering in Europe and then entered the mining business in Leadville, Colorado, where he grew wealthy. When he moved to the Kansas City area in 1881, he purchased the Consolidated Kansas City Smelting and Refining Company in Argentine, Kansas. By 1889, Meyer helped the company expand to one of the largest refined gold, silver, lead, blue vitriol, and zinc producers in the nation with over 1,000 employees and $15 million of revenue per year. Although well-known at the time for his smelting business, Meyer is now remembered primarily for his efforts to beautify Kansas City.

Meyer believed strongly in a concept that would later become known as the City Beautiful Movement. Proponents of City Beautiful believed that a growing population was not an adequate measure of a city’s health, because an accidental collection of people did not form a true community. Therefore, cities needed to actively plan for the physical and moral well-being of their citizens, who could, in return, contribute to the welfare of the city.

Beginning in 1892, the Board of Park Commissioners, with Meyer as its president, advocated the “park and boulevard movement,” as they called it in Kansas City. Other notable advocates of City Beautiful in Kansas City included George Kessler (the lead architect of park and boulevard planning in Kansas City), William Rockhill Nelson (whose paper, The Kansas City Star, publicly lobbied for the improvements), and Adriance Van Brunt (who designed several boulevards and the entrance to Swope Park).

Postcard of the Paseo looking North toward 12th Street
The Paseo looking north

The park and boulevard movement focused on real estate in particular. In theory, property values would increase along with the city’s moral fabric and beauty. Therefore, the City Beautiful would be more than a mere artistic endeavor. Aesthetically pleasing parks, boulevards, statues, and fountains would arouse a community spirit that would in turn stimulate the city’s economic prowess and standard of living.

Whatever the reasoning, the movement resulted in further segregation of the city along lines of class and race. In practice, beautifying the city entailed the forcible relocation of people living in slums and replacing them with parks or fancier neighborhoods. Those who could live and work in the new, “improved” parts of town were mostly white, middle-class citizens. As appalling as it sounds today, the racial and class homogeneity would have been seen by City Beautiful advocates as one of the key areas of progress.

Nevertheless, the parks and boulevard movement dramatically shaped the racial and physical landscape of Kansas City. Following Meyer’s death, J. C. Nichols became the most prominent city planner in Kansas City. In many ways, Nichols’s internationally famous innovations in residential zoning, city beautification, and urban revival built upon the work and ideas of the earlier park and boulevard movement, with all of the positive and negative effects that city planning of the early twentieth century entailed.

 

Read full biographical sketches of people involved with the parks and boulevard movement prepared by Missouri Valley Special Collections, The Kansas City Public Library:

 

View images of August Meyer and some of the results of the parks and boulevard movement that are a part of the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

 

Check out the following books about the park and boulevard movement in Kansas City.

 

View the following documentaries.

 

See the August Meyer Residence, now known as Vanderslice Hall, which today is an administrative building for the Kansas City Art Institute at 4415 Warwick Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111.

 

Continue researching August Meyer using archival material from the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

 

References:

Lyle W. Dorsett and A. Theodore Brown, K.C.: A History of Kansas City, Missouri (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1978), 120-125, 135, 158-172, 200.

Janice Lee, Biography of August Meyer, Parks and Boulevards Leader, Missouri Valley Special Collections, The Kansas City Public Library, 2003.

Robert Pearson & Brad Pearson, The J.C. Nichols Chronicle: The Authorized Story of the Man, His Company, and His Legacy, 1880-1994 (Kansas City, MO: Country Club Plaza Press, 1994), 28.

Carrie Westlake Whitney, Kansas City, Missouri: Its History and Its People, 1800-1908, volume 2 (La Crosse, WI: Brookhaven Press, 2005), 194-197.

William H.Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement in Kansas City (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1964), 34-37, 40-54.

About the Author

Dr. Jason Roe is a digital history specialist and editor for the Library’s digitization and encyclopedia website project, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. He earned a doctorate in American history from the University of Kansas in May 2012 and is the author of the Library’s popular “This Week in Kansas City History” column. For assistance with general local history questions, please contact the Missouri Valley Special Collections.
  Kansas City Public Library on Facebook  Kansas City Public Library on Twitter  Kansas City Public Library on Flickr  Kansas City Public Library on YouTube  Follow KCLibrary on Pinterest  KC Unbound RSS feed

Comments:

Great brief biography of an

Great brief biography of an important Kansas Citian! Thank you for pointing out that one of the intended side effects of the City Beautiful movement that had such an impact on the physical & social character of our city was the increased "racial and class homogeneity" that we still see today.

It's disappointing that the MVSC biography of J.C. Nichols linked at the end of the article makes no mention at all of the restrictive covenants that purchasers in his developments had to sign as part of the transactions. The agreements restricted not only who could make the original purchase of the sites, but also to whom the properties could be sold into the indefinite future. While these covenants were found to be unconstitutional in 1948 & illegal in 1968, many properties in Nichols' developments still include the language in their records.

Post new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <b> <blockquote> <br> <center> <dd> <div> <dl> <dt> <em> <font> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <h6> <hr> <i> <img> <li> <ol> <p> <pre> <span> <strong> <sub> <sup> <table> <td> <tr> <u> <ul>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

CAPTCHA
The words below come from scanned books. By typing them, you help to digitize old texts and prevent automated spam submissions.