Faith and Trust Part II: The Case of the Moving Houses

(originally published 5/2/19)

Part I of this story, published last week and this, Part II, were originally a feature in a 2017 book I wrote on the history of the Greenway Fields neighborhood – the neighborhood just west of the Brookside Shops. It looked at the relationships of the neighborhood with two churches back in the 1970s through the 1990s. Part I focused on Wornall Road Baptist’s church need for expansion, and a neighborhood resistant to giving it room to do so. Part II, this week tells the story of the efforts of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church to likewise expand took lessons from the experience of its neighbor church, to reach a different outcome – not just one for the Greenway Fields neighborhood, but for two other neighborhoods miles away..

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Just as the Wornall Road Baptist Church project was being resolved, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, on the south side of Meyer Boulevard, was gearing up for a similar challenge. Like Wornall Road, St. Andrew’s wanted to expand. For some time, the Episcopal church had been acquiring houses in the block south of it, both on Wornall Road and the interior street, Wornall Terrace. At first, St. Andrew’s actions were slow and subtle – it didn’t demolish the houses, and it hadn’t formalized its expansion plans. But once all six of the houses it wanted had been acquired, it unveiled its plans for expansion and parking.

St. Andrew’s plans were met with similar neighborhood opposition. The church had been a bad landlord, neighbors said, and never took good care of the houses. The neighbors wanted landscaping to buffer the parking lot from the adjacent houses, and controls on the new traffic that would be generated. But there was one major difference in St. Andrews’ plan. The church wouldn’t be demolishing the houses; it wanted to relocate them, to physically move them to another neighborhood.

In the mid 1980s, St. Andrew’s forged a volunteer partnership with the Kansas City Habitat for Humanity project, which had been building affordable housing for low-income families since 1979. When St. Andrew’s approached Habitat about moving the houses to be renovated for one of its families, the agency was interested but wary. House-moving is an expensive and complicated process, particularly when moving over some distance. The neighborhood Habitat had targeted were about five miles from Greenway Fields. The move would have to happen in the middle of the night to keep traffic conflicts at a minimum. Power lines would need to be raised and tree branches would likely have to be trimmed. The estimated cost was $50,000 per house. Habitat for Humanity could afford to move only three houses. <IMAGE 75b and c>

Neighborhood Housing Services stepped up to take the other three houses. NHS is a Kansas City community development corporation whose mission is similar to Habitat’s – to build and renovate housing in targeted neighborhoods. NHS worked in the Squire Park neighborhood, on the west side of The Paseo north of 39th Street. Habitat wanted its three houses for the Ivanhoe neighborhood, directly across The Paseo from Squire Park. The two agencies were the perfect partners, and Greenway Fields residents liked the idea as well. Everyone agreed it would be wonderful to reuse houses, particularly ones like these that were built to high standards and had aesthetic value. And the chosen neighborhoods were places where these houses could make a difference in the community and in the lives of the residents.

The big move began around midnight, August 12, 1992. The first houses to be moved would be Habitat’s. The NHS houses were scheduled for a few months later. People lined the entire route to watch and video the spectacle of a three-house move. Police cars led the way to block traffic from the intersections. Service trucks followed, raising power lines and trimming errant tree branches as the houses lumbered forward. It took nearly six hours for the houses to arrive at their new sites. The Kansas City Star, which had been covering the story all summer, referred to the move as “an unusual pre-dawn parade.”

All told, it had taken at least forty years for the two churches to achieve their expansion plans, a testament to the vigilance and tenacity of the neighborhood. But the experience had shown the Greenway Fields Homes Association the limitations of the restrictions designed to protect their homes.

(Photo: One of the houses moved from St. Andrew’s property at Meyer and Wornall, on the left as it appeared in its original location, and below that, as the same house looks in its current location on The Paseo in the Squier Park neighborhood.)

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