One of the fun things about this job is the unexpected pleasure of discovery. I am not kidding when I say, I never know what new little historical goodies I’ll come across when I open up a box or an envelope or, some days, even the door to my office.
Why just this week, I was given two copy-paper boxes filled with photographs. There were some “old-fashioned” negatives, some prints and some CDs. But the prize of what I have looked through so far were some black-and-white contact sheets, which are basically proof sheets of all the pictures on a roll of film (or a disc in this day and age.)
These particular photos were aerials of Hospital Hill. Not sure the exact date, but it was
sometime after 1970 and before the mid-1980s. I know this because of what’s missing from the photos (certain Children’s Mercy buildings) and what’s still there (old General Hospital.)
My first thought was, “Darn, I wish I would have found these a year ago when I was working on ‘For All Children Everywhere.’ ” These would have been great to use in the book to show how Children’s Mercy was hemmed in by the old buildings to the north, and UMKC Dental School and Truman Medical Center to the south and east. But alas, I didn’t have the pictures then and, well, truth be told, the book turned out just fine without them.
The second thought was, “Boy, there’s no end to what we might find as we continue to look for photos and artifacts related to our history.” This is an exciting odyssey. (I want to get more into that thought another time.)
But while I’m on the subject of old General Hospital (and for that matter, old
Wheatley Provident Hospital), it’s time to bring up something else I ran across while working on the book but wasn’t able to include. I think it’s relevant now that Wheatley is in danger of being torn down, and old General Hospital already has been replaced.
In the 1980s-’90s battle over the future of the General Hospital buildings that opened in 1908, a lot of people voiced very strong opinions. Many of them are included in the book. But one I didn’t include was an editorial from The Kansas City Star. It ran on a Sunday, the highest circulation day for the paper, which suggests the folks at The Star wanted as many people as possible to see its opinion on the matter. I’ll let it speak for itself. From Nov. 26, 1989:
It’s not important in Kansas City.
Kansas City doesn’t seem to have the will — or people with power who have the will — to keep history. The Union Station continues to deteriorate with nothing in sight to save it. Now it seems that the old General Hospital is on the way to destruction.
There are always good reasons to tear down an old building. Always an excuse. Children’s Mercy Hospital and the University of Missouri – Kansas City need the General Hospital property for what is called eventual expansion and for present parking. Harry C. McCray Jr., chairman of the Children’s Mercy board, says he is not unsympathetic to the cause of the preservationists, but that it comes down to the city making some choices: “The hospital is more important.”
Something is always more important.
Probably at various times, something was more important than the Roman Colosseum. But it’s still there after nearly 2,000 years. …
But you don’t necessarily think of building preservation in terms of architecture. You think in terms of history. You certainly don’t think in terms of this century or even the next. You think in terms of 300 years from now, 500 years from now, even a thousand years from, now.
Kansas City is a young city, even by New World standards. Its bare beginnings were only a century and a half ago. Almost nothing from those earliest days is left. Nobody thought those old buildings were important. So they’re gone. But in such a youthful city, we hope there will be a 500-years-from-now.
Those who always have good reasons for tearing down an old building will offer the stopper: “Nobody’s doing anything with it.” “It’s just rotting away.” “Who’s going to pay for it?”
Those are good questions, but some places in the world have found answers. Ways are found to do things with old property that aren’t immediately profitable or expedient. If private interests and philanthropy won’t do it, government does.
But not in Kansas City.
We know what happened to General Hospital. And we know what happened to Union Station. The future of Wheatley-Provident is still being written. There are many possibilities.
Maybe a public health museum and education center. Maybe, with its proximity to Crossroads, a children’s art gallery.
Or perhaps, a pile or rubble and a forgotten past.
“Something is always more important.”