The Livestock Exchange Building
March 07, 2012
I found out that running through the West Bottoms can be quite trance inducing. The soundtrack from Far and Away shuffles onto my mp3 as I run past block after block of dilapidated brick facades and boarded windows, watching me desperately, pleadingly, begging me to notice them. I pause and briefly close my eyes, trying to remember what life was like those many decades ago when this booming Midwestern cow-town was in its heyday. The music rises to an emotional pinnacle in my head. I open my eyes and the buildings still loom above me, but they shimmer in the sunlight. Their unique brickwork reflects the echoing shouts of a paperboy on the bustling streets below, shouting over the rumbling of wagons and early model T’s jostling on the crude roads. I start to run again, dodging through the men and women on the street, in a vision as though I was and not that I am. But I am on a mission. A mission to find possibly the most important building in Kansas City’s economic history. For, arguably, without this building Kansas City would not have grown to the city it is today. Stout and humble, it blends amidst the other brick buildings, having survived floods and fires; it has long been the backbone of our city's economy.
I keep running until the smell of cowpats grows nauseatingly acrid to my nose. The earth seems to shake, and in my periphery, I see a herd of cattle shift like the ebbing of a great tide, to and fro, dancing thousands strong in the confines of massive pens. And there it rises before me, the Kansas City livestock exchange building.
Built in 1910 as the largest livestock exchange building in the world, it was a city unto itself with offices, restaurants, and a post office. It acted as both a beacon to livestock owners of the western territories and as a redistributor. Below it spread the older stockyards, predated to their establishment in 1871. In 1878, the yards grew from 13 acres to 55 acres. Eventually, the yards would grow to 207 acres of pens, yards, and railways. At its peak, the yards processed a whopping six and a half to seven million head of livestock annually. In 1923, the Kansas City stockyards even set a world record for the most head of cattle received in a day: 60,206!
However, by the 1940s, business had begun to decline and following the historically disastrous floods of 1951, the stockyards began a sharp downward spiral. In 1991, the final auction was held, but the building survived and began a 13 million dollar renovation project. It now stands as the center of the "Bottoms Up" campaign, revitalizing the Western Bottoms from a graveyard of commerce to a thriving urban core. Of the exchange buildings’ roughly 225,000 square feet, nearly 90% is occupied, from individual tenants to the headquarters of Konrath Ltd. Construction.
So the next time you head to the American Royal show to celebrate the stockyards of Kansas City, plug in a dramatic soundtrack by John Williams, or Hans Zimmer if you prefer. Close your eyes and let your mind explore the past. Not an idealist like me? Then, just stop by the exchange building and wander its halls, letting the tangible history envelope you.
This is the dusty trekker signing off.
Until next week’s adventure!
Lee's Summit Branch