oes Platte City’s downtown area qualify as a historic district? The verdict – at least initially – is in.
Fresh off a trip to Jefferson City to visit with officials from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) historic preservation office, Shirley Kimsey, Platte City historian and acknowledged head of the effort to pursue the designation, said her worst fears about the project were realized.
“As I thought, we’re trying to take too much in,” Kimsey told The Landmark. “The metal is going to have to come off these (downtown) buildings before we’re even considered.”
Still, Kimsey said, it is a step in the right direction for the city and its most recent attempt to pursue a historic designation for the city. The last attempt by city stakeholders took place in 1979 but failed to achieve recognition for the downtown district. Now, bolstered by the blessing of the city government, Kimsey and a new committee are trying their hand again.
The three member “historical preservation committee,” appointed by the Platte City Board of Aldermen at its May 27 meeting, is comprised of Alderman George McClintock, director of the Platte City Area Development Association and local retailer Mary Ann Brooks, and Shirley Kimsey. The independent committee had the support of the aldermen to present a petition on behalf of the city to put the downtown district on the National Historic Registry.
According to the resolution, the aldermen expressed support for a district that begins at the Platte City Cemetery at the north, the Platte River on the west, to Marshall Road on the west and continuing south to Academy Street.
In addition to the metal “slip covers” adorning roughly four buildings on Main Street across from the Platte County Courthouse, another apparent deal breaker for the city was the blend of new and old houses sprinkled throughout the city. With a lack of architecturally significant concentration throughout many of the city’s neighborhoods, naming one district has seemed to become impractical.
“The houses we will (place on the register) individually,” Kimsey said. “We have so many new houses that they can’t be in the district.”
Tiffany Patterson, National Historic Register coordinator for the MDNR, said that although the state didn’t think Platte City was a good candidate at the moment, the city was on the right track to pursuing some other sort of historic designation.
“I think there’s a lot in Platte City that is eligible for the historic register,” Patterson said. “I just don’t know if there is a strong historic commercial district right now.”
Patterson said that the MDNR gave the Platte City committee feedback on what the city needed to do before the state would support the city’s district naming efforts. “That’s the problem with coming to talk to us,” Patterson joked. “We assign work to do.”
Patterson said she asked the committee to prepare multiple property documentation and submissions. She said she encouraged cities like Platte City who don’t have resources together in one area to pursue getting on the register one-by-one.
“The problem in Platte City is there will be a really fabulous house from 1870 and on either side of it there would be a modern one,” Patterson explained. “So you can’t create a district.”
Patterson said the documentation the committee said it would prepare would be a big step toward getting on the register.
“It’s a big piece of the final goal and it’s a national register document,” Patterson said of the multiple property documentation. “It goes to the National Registry offices and is approved and filed. And what it also does is cut down the work for future property owners. It facilitates the whole process by outlining what is eligible in the community.” Patterson said that the city always had the option of pursuing a municipally-designated historic district, an idea that Kimsey and Brooks both said they would consider discussing with city officials. In the meantime, Kimsey hinted that her next move would be to renew what she described as a long-term battle against the metal facades covering the downtown building’s architecture.
“They tried to put that (metal) on my building,” Kimsey said, recalling a downtown revitalization effort of the late 1960s. “I said, ‘no, you’re not! That damn stuff is not coming on my building.’”
Kimsey lamented the lost architecture that is hidden underneath the pastel-colored slipcovers. She claimed that in order to fit the metal onto the building, callous contractors chipped off the stone carvings that adorned the former building used by the Knights of Pythias, a men’s fraternity. She claimed that the former Platte City opera house’s façade lays hidden beneath a slipcover as well.
“Here was all this architecture being covered up here, while cities like Harrisonville and Meadville were restoring theirs.”
Patterson said that preparing the paperwork now may help prevent work like that from ever happening again.
“Now (the city) is setting up a plan where they can say, ‘we’re planning on doing these projects and we should avoid these areas because they’re historic,’” Patterson pointed out. She added that even though many cities find that a locally designated historic district isn’t the right fit for a community, she said that it might be a good one for Platte City.
“Hopefully, with a small investment there’s going to be some sharp buildings there,” Patterson said. “There’s enough to go forward with.”