There’s Little Bit of Kansas City (Actually a Lot) Deep in the Heart of Texas
Texans being Texans and mightily secure in their belief that everything bigger and better emanates from the Lone Star State, it figures that folks there would chafe at Michael Grauer’s take on the history of the panhandle city of Amarillo.
It owes less to Dallas or some other Texas locale, he says, than it does to a place in flyover country some 600 miles to the north and east — Kansas City.
The Amarillo skyline was shaped, in part, by architects from KC who designed more than a dozen downtown structures in the first part of the 1900s, and Amarillo’s Country Club District and many of its nearby homes took inspiration from Kansas City’s tree-lined Country Club Plaza area. Panhandle cattlemen who accompanied their herds by train to Kansas City’s Stockyards came home with saddles, spurs and other work gear, along with furniture, fashionable clothing and assorted other goods.
Kansas City’s influence would span from 1890 to the start of World War II. It extended to finance. To art. To healthcare and education.
“The first time we gave this presentation down there (in Amarillo), I had a very prominent resident come up to me and say, ‘That’s all interesting. But you know, it was really Fort Worth,’” recalls Grauer, a Kansas City native who’s now the associate director for curatorial affairs and curator of art and Western heritage at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas. “I said, ‘Sorry, but I just showed you the evidence and it’s not Fort Worth. It’s Kansas City.’
“It sort of chaps them a little bit. But once you see it, you can’t not see it.”
Kansas City reaped its own benefits from the long-distance relationship, chiefly the influx and stimulus of Texas cash.
The two cities’ shared history — forged by cattle — is spotlighted in an expansive exhibit at the Kansas City Public Library’s downtown Central Library. Created by Grauer and Amy Von Lintel, another Kansas City native, who’s an associate professor of art history at West Texas A&M University, it features more than 100 items ranging from vintage saddles and collections of branding irons and spurs to a late-1890s bison hide coat and memorabilia from Amarillo’s 90-year-old Hotel Herring.
The U-shaped Herring is a mirror image of Kansas City’s Hotel President at 14th and Baltimore, which is three years older. Both were designed by the Kansas City architectural firm of Shepard and Wiser.
The exhibit, “Cattle, Cowboys and Culture: Kansas City and Amarillo, Building an Urban West,” remains on display through March 18 in the Central Library’s Rocky and Gabriella Mountain Gallery.
For Grauer, it represents a labor of love. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, and graduated from Oak Park High School, he developed a love of Western history and an appreciation for Kansas City’s cattle-imbued past. He lamented the Stockyards’ disappearance and what he saw as efforts by the city to distance itself from its Cowtown roots.
Grauer settled in the Amarillo area in 1987, when he joined the staff at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. There, he says, he has seen a similar disavowal of Western heritage.
The exhibit “seemed like an opportunity to give back to both of the places that have been my hometowns,” he says. “I saw a chance to educate: Don’t forget your history.”
Even to Grauer, the Kansas City-Amarillo connection wasn’t immediately apparent. He knew, he says, that the Herring Hotel had a sister hotel in Kansas City but not why it did. Then, he sat in on a lecture by Von Lintel about Amarillo’s landmark Landergin-Harrington house. Completed in 1914, it had been the first architectural project taken on in the city by Kansas City’s then-named Shepard, Farrar and Wiser.
Von Lintel identified the Landergins as Kansas cattlemen who had resettled in the Texas Panhandle. “And there it was,” Grauer says. “The connection was cattle.
“As we peeled the onion and found more and more things in our (museum) collection, it was obvious that people in Amarillo had come up here to buy things, nice things, that weren’t available down there and possibly weren’t available in other Texas cities. It started with architecture, and then it went to goods and services. We dug further, and discovered that there were cattlemen moving their families from the Amarillo area to Kansas City for education and medical care, which we really didn’t have, to speak of (in Amarillo).”
Among them was Henry B. Sanborn, the “Father of Amarillo,” who had platted the city in 1888. He later lived for a decade on an estate on Troost Avenue in Kansas City, and is buried in KC’s Forest Hills Cemetery.
“Amarillo is much less cliched-Texas than you get downstate,” Grauer says. “It’s a lot of Midwesterners, and that’s why I think there’s always been a kinship — culturally, socio-politically — with Kansas City.
“I think it was an easy sell back in the day. It was a natural thing.”