Views of the City: The West Bottoms

From Waldo to Westport, the River Market to the Plaza, each of Kansas City’s iconic neighborhoods exhibit their unique character. Sandwiched between the Kansas and Missouri rivers, the West Bottoms district is no different.

What are the West Bottoms, you may ask? According to the Visit Kansas City website, the West Bottoms are a place where “Hipsters vibe and antique shoppers thrive.”

However you may feel about this rhyming tagline, it is in part true.
What distinguishes the West Bottoms amongst other areas of Kansas City is its strong connection to both the past and present.

Formerly the industrial and railroad hub of Kansas City, the area was a critical part of the city’s early history, dating back to the 1860s. Used as a stockyard for cattle, it housed one of the largest livestock exchanges in the world and was a centerpiece of the local economy.

As time passed by, the West Bottoms fell from their former glory into disrepair. Many businesses left, leaving buildings and roads in the historic area to deteriorate.

Approaching the present day, however, the circumstances of the overlooked neighborhood changed. Places such as the American Royal rodeo center and the Hy-Vee Arena were built. Taking advantage of the already spooky industrial architecture, renowned haunted houses such as The Beast and The Edge of Hell popped up.

As of now, the area hosts a strong hipster culture. Though primarily populated by antique shops and other folksy knick-knack purveyors, one can come across businesses ranging from custom bicycle shops to axe-throwing party centers. Coffee roasters, breweries and food trucks (though limited) make up the West Bottoms’ food and beverage scene. The offices of cattlemen are converted into trendy lofts. Old brick buildings formerly resided by tractor manufacturers are now occupied by flannel-wearing office workers.

The Bottoms are also home to many events, such as the monthly First Friday Weekend antique fair and the annual Boulevardia beer and music festival.

Despite the hip businesses and living spaces, the West Bottoms makes little attempts to hide its past. Graffiti and broken glass indicate the buildings have never found new residents. Railroad tracks run straight through the area with the horns of train engines blaring throughout. Few plants grow there, the landscape dominated by brick and crumbling concrete.
These things, however, give the West Bottoms its character.

The neighborhood embodies shabbiness and trendiness in equal measure. This quirkiness makes the West Bottoms all the more interesting. Walking through the broad streets gives off a sense of adventure as one sees the new resting in the discarded shells of the old. Buildings bear the names of long-defunct companies on high while the artsy signs of craft stores are advertised below.


If hipsters are known for valuing the trends of days long gone by, this is entirely evident in the winding streets of the West Bottoms.
Even if the thought of antiques, railroads and hipsters does not sound desirable to you, the West Bottoms is worth a trip. Just west of Downtown, the area is not far from the center of Kansas City. So take the bridge down 12th Street, find a place to park, and take a stroll. You will be experiencing the history of Kansas City rebooted.

smb9vt@mail.umkc.edu

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