New Library Installation Chronicles the Impact of Eminent Domain: Century-Old Homed Razed, 43 Kansas City Households Uprooted

Tue, 03/10/2015
Steven Woolfolk
New Library Installation Chronicles the Impact of Eminent Domain:<br> Century-Old Homed Razed, 43 Kansas City Households Uprooted

(Kansas City, Missouri) - Roughly a four-block section of Kansas City's east-side Wendell Phillips neighborhood no longer exists, at least as it once did. Dozens of homes on nearly 130 parcels of land were acquired by the city via eminent domain to make room for a new East Patrol police station and crime lab. Forty-three households were displaced, some forcibly.

Matt Rahner, an instructor of art at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, began documenting the dismantling of this enclave in the predominantly African American community in the fall of 2012, photographing residents and their homes from the time the homes still stood until they were rubble. Those photos - along with objects and ephemera from the vacant homes and lots - make up a new installation, Eminent Domain, opening Saturday, March 21, 2015, in the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

This exhibit of Rahner's work remains on display in the Genevieve Guldner Gallery until May 31, 2015.

It is, the artist says, "is an investigation into the repercussions and reality of a power construct that allows one entity to forcefully and legally relocate others against their will."

The section of land cleared for the city's new Leon Mercer Jordan Campus sits between Prospect and Brooklyn Avenues and between 26th and 27th Streets. The $74 million project was billed as major boost for a distressed area, bringing construction and other jobs.

But it tore at neighborhood history. Of the 43 occupied homes that were leveled in Wendell Phillips, all but one was built between 1892 and 1917. One housed four generations of the Lyman family. Brothers James and Fred Hadley had lived in another since they were 3 and 4 years old, spanning half a century.

Demolition began in January 2013, and groundbreaking on the new police station and crime lab was held that November. Work is targeted for completion in the winter of 2015-16.

"Once the city decided to move forward with the project, homeowners had no options," Rahner says. "Many could not afford outside legal representation to fight back and had neither the time nor energy to represent themselves in court."

He continued his photographic and other documentation into 2014.

Rahner, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Missouri, teaches beginning photography, digital photography, and drawing at Missouri Valley College. His work has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally.

His grandfather was a Kansas City, Kansas, dentist who lost the building in which his practice was located via eminent domain in the 1960s. He died shortly afterward.

Admission to the installation is free. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th and Baltimore.

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