Pendergast still watches West Bottoms

Posted March 11, 2014 at 11:00 pm

By MICHAEL BUSHNELL
Northeast News
March 12, 2014

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Born in 1856 in the Ohio River town of Gallipolis, James Pendergast was the second of nine children. His Irish Catholic family later moved to Independence, Mo.

Pendergast worked as a laborer and had an affinity for horse racing. After a single trip to the track, he won enough money on a horse named “Climax” to open a saloon in the rough-and-tumble West Bottoms area, Kansas City’s First Ward. Pendergast was elected to the position of alderman in 1892, a post he held until 1910.

Alderman Jim was famous for his black “Bismarck” moustache and dapper dress. Pendergast was a true man of the people, cashing checks for laborers in his St. Louis Avenue establishment. His political faction of “Goats” were in a constant battle for power with Joe Shannon’s “Rabbits” for control over everything from illegal liquor and gambling to prostitution and deal fixing in the state capital.

Jim Pendergast died in 1911, and most of the business operations of the “Pendergast Machine” fell to his brothers, Tom and Mike. The “Machine” controlled all aspects of Missouri politics through the 1930s and the Great Depression – which was largely unfelt here in Kansas City due to “Boss Tom’s” corruption and skimming from such projects as the new City Hall, County Courthouse and Municipal Auditorium. Work was available to anyone who wanted it, as long as you were aligned with “the Machine.”

The Pendergast era came to an unceremonious end in 1945 when Tom was convicted of tax evasion. Throughout the trial, new evidence was discovered every day as to how deep the tentacles of the Pendergast Machine stretched into local, state and federal government.

This postcard shows the statue of “Alderman Jim” Pendergast in its original location just below present-day Case Park, overlooking his beloved First Ward. The card is one in a series of sepia-tone postcards published by John Straley who lived at 213 N. Mersington Ave., right here in Historic Northeast.