Monday, December 6, 2010


I am not sure how Brush Creek got it's name and to be honest, I really don't care.  Brush Creek use to be a tiny little creek that you could step over that ran through mid-town Kansas City.  Every once in a while in the old days it would flood but nothing too disastrous.   That is it was a fairly calm creek until Boss Tom Pendergast got a hold of it.

The Pendergast brothers, Tom and Jim, ran the city of Kansas City from the mid thirties to the late forties.  They decided who got elected to the city seats, including Mayor.  They would decide who were judges and who were Senators and Representatives from Kansas City.  Nothing happened in the city without Boss Tom's approval.  It was Tom Pendergast that gave the United States Harry Truman by appointing him a circuit judge followed by deciding that Truman would make a good Senator.  Truman eventually became President's Roosevelt's last vice-president and became President when Roosevelt died.

The Pendergast brothers owned several businesses including some bars over on twelfth street, some other stores here and there and they had a concrete plant.  They made their money the old fashioned way.  They stole it.  They extorted money from businesses around Kansas City offering protection and tax breaks and they delivered on everything they promised.

One year Boss Tom decided that the concrete business could use a little extra business, so he arranged to have Brush Creek paved.  It would be paved with concrete.  There would be a little concrete channel about three feet wide for the creek to run in and then there would be about 15 feet of concrete on either side of the channel.  The contract called for seven foot by ten foot slabs of concrete to be used to pave the creek all the way through the midtown area of the city.  When it was finally complete, the slabs of concrete were more like six foot by eight foot enabling the Pendergast concrete company to make a killing on the project.  The result of the paving was that there was no longer any ground for the creek to soak into when the heavy rains of spring came, thereby creating a nasty little flood plain that nature had not intended.

Bridges were built by the brothers over the creek for automobile and pedestrian traffic.  These bridges had arcs on the bottom side of them making a still smaller area for the newly flood conditioned Brush Creek to make it's way through.

Brush Creek quickly became one of Kansas City's landmarks.  It was rather a beautiful site, this concrete creek winding its way through the famed Plaza area of Kansas City.  It would be decades before the folly of the design of the creek was discovered though.  A heavy rain in 1977 ran the creek to its maximum capacity.  The concrete prevented the flood waters from soaking into the ground below it and the arched bridges prevent the water from flowing smoothly through the Plaza area.  The result was a massive flood that nearly brought the Plaza to its knees.  The area did recover from the flood and then began one of the nicest events the Creek had ever been used for.

The city decided to have a series of free concerts in Brush Creek during the summer months.  A stage would be set up in front of one of the bridges, straddling the tiny little creek that ran through this mass of concrete.  People would sit on the concrete around the creek and up on its grassy banks to watch great concerts from old groups for free.  These concerts were very relaxing and always politely attended by the citizens.  I personally saw Blood Sweat and Tears in the creek as well as Ramsey Lewis and Gap Mangione and many others.  The concerts soon became a summer tradition in Kansas City.

Then everything changed with another heavy rain in 1993 that again flooded the plaza and made the city fathers decide to undo Boss Tom's masterpiece.  It was a flood control plan and Brush Creek would be reinvented.  The creek was rebuilt using massive amounts of concrete with more water from the Blue River being diverted into it.  Brush Creek soon looked more like Brush River as the new construction began to come to a close.  There were places to walk next to the creek.  People were soon down on the banks of the new Brush Creek walking its concrete sidewalks, jogging and walking dogs there as well.  When the heavy rains come, there is plenty of room for the runnoff thereby protecting the plaza from any more flooding.

There are boats that run up and down the new Brush Creek giving people a different perspective of the Plaza.  Fountains shoot up from the middle of the creek in various places and the creek is lit at night making it a wonderful sight to behold for its citizens and visitors alike.  Brush Creek has come full circle.  The mistake that Boss Tom apparently made in his paving of Brush Creek was that he didn't use enough concrete, and didn't plan it big enough.

If it weren't for the Pendergast brothers though, Kansas City would not have this beautiful little controlled river running through the Plaza Midtown area of the city.

A few years ago my son was playing baseball in a small stadium about 5 miles from the Plaza area.  There, next to the stadium ran Brush Creek.  Old Brush Creek that is.  It was decaying from neglect but there was the little three foot channel in which the creek ran and the not so huge slabs of concrete that the Pendergast Concrete company had poured so many years ago.  So the Pendergast legacy lives on in small areas of the city.  The concerts are now held up on street level above Brush Creek as the tradition continues on.

Kansas City had an evil boss who ruined part of nature by paving a simple little creek and then The good city corrected that mistake by putting still more concrete in the creek.

From evil, often comes good.

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