Un-Welcome to the Neighborhood: Brookside’s “Blue Goose”

(originally published in 2017 in the book, One Hundred Years’ Journey: The Greenway Fields Neighborhood,” and in KC Backstories 6/13/19) This version is adapted from the KCB post)

I may be one of the few people in midtown that doesn’t have a strong opinion about the “Blue Goose.” To me, it’s just a part of the landscape. Some consider it an eyesore and an intrusion. Others love it. For them, it’s convenient, it’s easy, it’s home. One person sees an example of mid-century modern architecture that’s currently enjoying a revival. The next sees industrialized housing, devoid of design, and in need of some serious TLC.

The high-rise on the southeast corner of Wornall Road and Meyer Boulevard is officially named for itsaddress – 333 Meyer West. But it’s been called the Blue Goose practically from the day it opened as an apartment building around 1960. Blue is for the signature color of its metal cladding, goose for, well, I’ve always assumed it’s a reference to something stupid or foolish. 333 Meyer West shares the Wornall/Meyer intersection with three formidable Brookside institutions. Border Star Elementary on the northeast corner has been a presence there since the 1860s. Across Wornall Road are St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on the southwest corner, and Wornall Road Baptist church on the northwest, both of which have been there since the 1920s.

The whole area, the Blue Goose site included, had at one time been owned by the Nichols Company, and some of the company’s early development plans show other buildings on that site, including at one time Southwest High School. But the lot was small, and hemmed in on the east side by the streetcar rail. The Nichols Company never developed it, and must have sold it because the developer of the original blue building was known as Brookside Investment Company.

In the following excerpt from my book on the Greenway Fields neighborhood (just west of the Brookside Shops between 61st and 65th), I learned the origins of the Brookside area’s relationship to the “Goose,” and found that design was just one of many complaints about the project that surfaced from the moment the project was announced.

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Neighborhood complaints started as soon as signs of activity appeared on the site. The objections that were openly expressed focused on three issues – adding to the vehicular traffic in an already crowded intersection, endangering the safety of the students at Border Star Elementary and Southwest High and, according to an account in the Kansas City Times on May 12, 1959, the feeling that the building itself would “disrupt the neighborhood atmosphere.” The article lists among those in opposition the Armour Fields and Country Club Homes Associations, the Border Star Elementary and Southwest High School Parent-Teacher Associations, and seven individual members of the Greenway Fields neighborhood. : George Eddy, 622 W. Meyer; Ralph Eisner, 6436 Washington; Samuel Golding, 649 W. Meyer; Neal Keehn, 6419 Summit; Lewis Keplinger, 6411 Pennsylvania; James Kirk, 442 W. 62nd Terrace, and; Burnis Sharp (6442 Wornall).

The Times article reported on the onslaught of oppositional forces that had appeared at a city council meeting the previous day, where the opponents in the council chambers outnumbered the proponents more than 8 to 1. In fact, the city council deemed it necessary to reconvene on the matter three days later, as the first session’s time had run out before the proponents had a chance to speak. Three days later, the Times covered the story again, reporting that the developer spoke in defense of the project, and disparaged the opposition. He claimed that some of the petitioners were not residents of an adjacent neighborhood, and that many of the property owners that were adjacent had not protested with the group, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Wornall Road Baptist Church, both within the Greenway Fields boundaries.

The council then offered a few minutes for rebuttal to those present. The Times reported the unexpected twist that happened next.

[T]he woman court reporter, who had been quietly recording the proceedings on a stenotype machine, suddenly arose and walked to the speakers’ microphone. No one knew what the red-haired woman was up to, but she quickly made her intentions known. “My name is Mrs. Clyde Graham and I live at 6418 Wornall Road,” she announced. “I just can’t sit here any longer and let them keep saying that the people who live next to this lot aren’t opposed to this building. Well, I live right across the street from it, and I’m opposed to it. Furthermore, I go to the Wornall Road Baptist Church, and they’re opposed to it, too.” Thereupon, she returned to her machine and began recording again.

The neighborhoods continued their opposition in more proactive ways, even though excavation had begun. At one point, they formed the Country Club Civic Association, which offered what it considered a reasonable approach. They proposed to have the city condemn the land and revert it to recreational use. That scheme would have made a benefit district of the surrounding neighborhoods, levying what might have been as much as five percent of the assessed value, which would have produced an estimated quarter of a million dollars annually for building and maintaining the proposed playground. That idea turned out to lead nowhere. Ironically, even though the Nichols Company never developed the property, in 1923 they had it zoned for high-rise apartments. A recreational use wasn’t allowed.

The group tried to halt construction, adding to their case the claim they would suffer a significant decline in their housing values. Their opposition continued until the association exhausted all appeals to court and council. In the end, the apartment building was constructed. More than fifty years later, the residents are a welcome part of the Brookside community, the traffic congestion never materialized quite as predicted, and the large blue building has become, reluctantly within the community, an area landmark.

(Photos: 333 West Meyer, as it appeared in an early advertisement, and the same building today).

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