UMKC facilities change with the times

Local leaders chartered the University of Kansas City (UKC) in 1929. With the generous support of philanthropist William F. Volker, the board of trustees began a fund drive. Volker purchased and donated land north of Brush Creek, eight acres south of the creek and the Dickey mansion.

The United States was in the grips of the Great Depression in 1933, and it took a real leap of faith to open the doors to the University of Kansas City that year. But such daring was common in Kansas City. The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art opened in 1933, the Kansas City Philharmonic began performing and the city built Municipal Auditorium, where the UMKC men’s basketball team still plays its home games.

The area now occupied by UMKC was bought or donated parcel by parcel, beginning with Volker’s gift. The Dickey mansion, built in 1912, was UKC’s first building, used for administrative offices and classrooms. At the corner of 51st and Rockhill Road was a pond, an abandoned quarry where stones for the Dickey home and its carriage house had been removed. Even during those early years, construction needs were weighed against expense and availability.

The Dickey carriage house functioned over the years as a gymnasium, theater and maintenance building. The Dickey greenhouse is gone, its land now occupied by Royall Hall. Ever inventive, the administrators used the greenhouse as a science lab. When UKC merged with the University of Missouri System in 1963, Dickey Mansion was renamed to honor the Chancellor Carleton Scofield.

Between 1934 and 1958, six new buildings were erected. In 1947 and 1948, five surplus wooden buildings were moved from the Camp Crowder Air Force Base in Neosho, Missouri, to the UKC campus. The former Enlisted Men’s Service Club was converted into the Student Union. Once again, UKC was a forerunner in recycling.

During World War II, most students were women, but in the first peacetime year, 1946, enrollment jumped by 60 percent. Just a year later, UKC began admitting African-American students. UKC was one of the first private universities west of the Mississippi to enroll African-American students.

Without the endowments that would provide some breathing room, UKC repeatedly faced tough financial times. The University Center, built in 1959, was the seventh and final new UKC building. A final measure of economy was the merger with the University of Missouri System on July 25, 1963, which boosted enrollment by 46 percent and started a building boom. Eighteen buildings were either built or purchased and renovated between 1964 and 1983.

One such building was the Conservatory Performing Arts Center. In 1978, UMKC proposed a new building that would be an adequate home for the music and theater programs. Members of the Missouri legislature wondered aloud at the need for a “singin’, dancin’ house.” Nonetheless, the Conservatory Performing Arts Center was started the next year.

Between 1984 and today, more than a dozen additional structures have been built or remodeled. The Miller Nichols Learning Center addition (2013) provided much needed instructional space, and the Student Union (2011) is a hub of campus activity. The Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (2013) added state-of-the-art experiential learning spaces for UMKC’s management students. And four new residence facilities have made it possible for students to live on campus as part of their UMKC experience.

Since its earliest years, UMKC has been responsive and responsible to Kansas City. While the face of the campus may change, that commitment will not.