Seventy-fifth Anniversary for
Kansas City's Rose Garden

A brief history of the Laura Conyers
Smith Municipal Rose Garden

Sarajane S. Aber

With aerial photographs by J.S. Aber

Table of Contents
Introduction Origin in 1930s
Later development 75th anniversary
2010 update Reference

Introduction

Kansas City, Missouri's crown-jewel rose garden celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2006. The Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden in mid-city Jacob L. Loose Memorial Park is a radiant expanse of 1 acres with some 4000 roses of nearly 150 varieties. It has been a serene oasis and vitalizing inspiration to countless people who have passed that way for three-quarters of a century.

How this civic treasure came to be and continues to flourish is a real mid-American success story, which features the enabling spirit of volunteers with a worthy cause. Kansas City's rose garden today is the realization of a dream that began in 1931, when a group of public spirited citizens under the imaginative and enthusiastic leadership of Laura Conyers Smith established the Kansas City Rose Society and the public rose garden in Loose Park. It is also the story of a harmonious partnership with Kansas City's Park Department (Parks & Recreation Department since 1967), which has served well from the beginning.

Origin in the 1930s

In the early 1930s there was nationwide enthusiasm for growing roses, especially much promoted hydrid tea roses, as well as for developing municipal rose gardens. Then, too, these were stressful years of the Great Depression and thoughts of gardens, roses and natural beauty were heartening. Laura Smith had come to Kansas City from the "City of Roses," Portland, Oregon, and was eager to share her personal rose growing knowledge and appreciation. Her very feminine technique for spreading rose zeal was to invite a few friends to her home for a cup of tea and to listen to weekly radio "Rose Talks," sponsored by the American Rose Society and aired in the spring of 1931. Mrs. Smith was obviously a natural and gracious promoter.

On April 30th, when the radio presentation was to be "How to establish a municipal rose garden," 65 guests, including representatives of the Park Department, Chamber of Commerce, and area nurserymen, were treated to lunch and the radio show. With this introduction, Mrs. Smith proposed that Kansas City should have its own municipal rose garden. This project was so well showcased that the following week, on May 9, 1931, a branch of the American Rose Society was founded, the Kansas City Rose Society (KCRS), and Mrs. Clifford B. Smith was its first president.

In short order, representatives of the KCRS met with Park Department officials, and they agreed to establish a Municipal Rose Garden. This, then, was the beginning of the mutually beneficial partnership. KCRS would furnish the roses and the Park Department would care for them. On Sunday, June 7, 1931, following an elaborate rose show at the Smith's Westover Road home, the first unit of the garden, 120 rose bushes, was dedicated in the northwestern corner of Jacob L. Loose Memorial Park.

General plan view of Loose Park, Hare and Hare, 1930. North to right; Wornall Road across bottom (east) edge. Note location of rose garden in northwestern corner of the park. Taken from Lee et al. (1995, p. 55).

The tract of land which became Loose Park was in 1864 the site of the Civil War Battle of Westport. With time, it became farmland which at the turn of the 20th century was converted into the golf course of the Kansas City Country Club. Then, when the Country Club moved, these 80 acres of green space at 51st and Wornall Road, just south of the growing Country Club Plaza, were purchased in 1927 for $500,000 by Mrs. Ella Clark Loose. She gave the land to the city as a public park and as a memorial to her late husband, Jacob L. Loose, founder of the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company, now Sunshine Biscuits.

Left: historical marker for the Kansas City Country Club.
Right: statue of Jacob L. Loose given by his wife.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect setting or design for the garden. Park Department landscape architect, S. Herbert Hare, designed a classic concentric rose bed plan encircled with limestone and timber arches and pergolas, centered around a water pool. The initial concept was timeless and has undergone little change from the beginning. The varieties, colors, and vigor of roses have grown more splendid through the years.

Conceptual overview of the rose garden by Hare and Hare, ca. 1931. View toward northwest showing the classic concentric design of rose beds and paths around a central fountain. Taken from Lee et al. (1995, front cover).
Ground photograph of the rose garden as it appeared in the 1930s. View toward southeast. From an Elko collection; photographer and date unknown.

Later developments

In June 1944, an extension of the garden to the west was dedicated as a tribute to those who served in World War II. The Municipal Rose Garden was named to honor Laura Conyers Smith in 1965. The garden was recognized nationally in 1989 as the year's outstanding public rose garden by All-America Rose Selections, Inc. and presented with the prestigious AARS Bronze Award. An impressive new fountain with surrounding walks and paths, an ambitious project conceived and directed by KCRS, was completed in 2002, funded entirely with private donations of $750,000.

General diagram of the rose garden in the late 20th century. North to right. Notice the concentric, circular pattern, elongated slightly in the E-W direction. The west terrace appears at top center of plan. Taken from Lee et al. (1995, inside cover).

Through the years, pageantry has enlivened the garden with the music, dance and ceremony of annual Rose Day celebrations, idyllic Kansas City Ballet performances, and Rose Garden weddings. The KCRS also conducts educational demonstrations, workshops, and Garden Walks, all free to the public. Plans are currently underway to renovate and enhance the west terrace portion of the garden in the near future. The Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden has given a bounty of beauty and pleasure--a treasure and gift for 75 years--and a promise for the future.

75th anniversary aerial views

To recognize the 75th anniversary of the Laura Conyers Smith Municipal Rose Garden, aerial photographs were taken in June 2006. A small helium-filled blimp was employed to lift high-resolution digital cameras up to 500 feet above the rose garden. Pictures were taken at mid-day from oblique and vertical vantages. The following pictures document the general setting and details of the rose garden.

Superwide-angle image looking northward over the northern portion of Loose Park. Rose garden to left; garden center building to lower right. Image created by stitching together two wide-angle pictures; scene dimensions noticeably distorted.

Wide-angle view looking northward depicting all of the rose garden and adjacent park facilities.
Closer oblique view. South pergola at bottom; west terrace to left; main entrance shelter at top; new fountain at center.
Single vertical view centered on the fountain. South pergola to left; west terrace at top. Shadow of the blimp appears along lower right edge of scene.
Closeup vertical view of fountain and south pergola (left). Colorful roses are visible in several beds. Blimp shadow and sun glitter from water in the fountain.
Closeup vertical view of west terrace (center). This portion of the garden is next in line for improvements in the near future.
Mosaic of three vertical images stitched together depicting most of the rose garden complex. North toward top.

2010 Update

Early in 2010, we were invited by Ann McFerrin, who is the Kansas City Parks, Recreation, and Boulevard Archivist, to conduct additional aerial photography at Loose Park. Our initial goal was to recreate an historical airphoto taken in 1927, when the site was the Kansas City Country Club. In addition, we photographed the rose garden to show the results of recent work to conserve and maintain the original design of the garden.

Loose Park Historical Reenactment
Left: superwide-angle shot acquired March 18, 2010 with a helium blimp. The rose garden appears on the far right side. Right: airphoto of the Kansas City Country Club from 1927. Photograph © Wilborn & Associates; reproduced here by permission of Chris Wilborn (email: wilbornphoto@earthlink.net). Both views looking toward the southwest with Wornall Road on the left side.

Our historical reenactment was taken at about the same time of day (late morning) and year (earliest spring), judging by shadows and status of vegetation. Our vantage point over the northeastern corner of the park was limited to 500 feet (150 m) height; the 1927 airphoto was acquired from higher and farther to the northeast. Compare these views with the original Loose Park design, shown above.

Rose Garden 2010
View westward over the pavilion (lower left), playground (right) and rose garden (back left); 51st street on right side. Cool-season grass has greened up, but deciduous trees remain bare in this early spring scene.
Vertical shots over the rose garden. Left: overview of rose garden and surroundings; north toward side with parked cars. Right: closeup shot of the central rose garden. Rose beds appear clearly; the fountain at center is dry and covered with a tent. Compare these views with the original rose garden design, shown above.

Reference


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