Big Eleven Lake – an Urban Oasis

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

In continuing with our 7-11 themed issue for July 11th, we offer this Max Bernstein-published Linen-type postcard of Big Eleven Lake in Kansas City, Kansas. The lake is all that is left of a larger water themed park designed by noted Kansas City landscape architectural firm of Hare & Hare.

George Kessler, the designer of Kansas City’s Parks and Boulevard system, was tapped by Kansas City, Kansas city officials to replicate Kansas City, Missouri’s boulevard system across the state line. Waterway Park, constructed in a deep ravine, stretched from Washington Boulevard on the north to Grandview Boulevard on the south, incorporated many of the design and landscape features found in Kansas City’s burgeoning Parks system. According to a 1913 article in The Modern Cemetery, the land where the park sits was not suited for development purposes and presented a challenge for the surrounding ground. Called “an unsightly hole,” the landscape design firm of Hare & Hare was called on to design a park with two lakes anchoring each end of the park separated by a large, sunken water garden pool complete with goldfish and water lilies. Built roughly 40 feet below street grade and accessed by two staircases against a limestone wall, the reflecting pool featured natural plantings and a large fountain, much like the palisades built along the west bluff that made up Kersey Coates Drive in Kansas City. The lakes and pool were fed by a series of natural springs that offered a constant supply of water. Big Eleven Lake was the northern lake in that park system.

Sadly, Big Eleven Lake is all that remains of the original Waterway Park system. In 1921 the lake and reflecting pool was filled in and a $6,000 shelter house was constructed on the site of the larger lake at the south end of the park. Baseball diamonds and tennis courts were planned for the sites as well, but newspaper articles of the day note the ball diamonds may not have been built. Today, that end of the park is lined by a fitness walk, and well-worn soccer fields lie at the center of where the shallow lake once was. Newer homes have been built around the park and signs of a neighborhood renaissance are strong. The only clue to the lake’s existence is the earth berm surrounding a depression in the center of the park. No signs of the shelter house’s construction are visible today.

The reflecting pool was filled in, as well, and to this day is used as a parking lot. The only clue to the pool’s existence is an overgrown stone wall near the corner of 11th & Minnesota Ave., with three steps descending to the earth where the pool once existed. Somewhere under tons of dirt and gravel lies what’s left of a once-beautiful urban oasis. In 1983 Congressman Larry Winn secured a $79,000 grant to renovate and improve Big Eleven Lake. During the urban neighborhood boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s, residents reclaimed the park. Like many urban parks, it is used by families living nearby. While the park is still named Waterway Park, Big Eleven Lake, roughly two blocks to the north, is the only remnant of the opulent Kessler/Hare & Hare collaboration in Kansas City, Kansas.

Once again, special thanks to Matt Reeves and the staff at the Central Library’s Missouri Valley Room for his invaluable help and research for this week’s column.

The Modern Cemetery – Volume 23 – Page 71 – Google Books Result
Kansas City Then and Now. Dodd, c2003

10th Street & Grandview Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas. 1911-1912.
Planting plan.

The Sunken Water Garden, Waterway Park
10th Street & Grandview Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas. 1911-1912.
Presentation rendering of view.

Comments are closed.

  • Swope mystery lives on while park thrives

    September 19th, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News This card, titled “Entrance to Swope Park, Kansas City,” may have been sent by a prominent […]

    Cascio’s Corner

    September 12th, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News This week, in conjunction with our National Cheeseburger Day promotion, we feature an iconic Historic Northeast location […]

    The Heim Influence

    September 5th, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News Ferdinand Heim, along with his brothers Michael and Joseph, purchased the Star Ale Brewery at 14th […]

    Labor takes a holiday

    August 29th, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News This year, in honor of the approaching Labor Day holiday, we get a rare glimpse inside […]

    Advertising postcards were social media of the day

    August 22nd, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News “This house roofed by Northwest Ready Roofing Company,” reads the description on the front of this […]

  • Norman School: A proud testament to Historic Preservation

    August 15th, 2018

    Norman School in the 3500 block of Jefferson was built in 1898 by John Perry, Principal of the Keith & […]

    Those were some postcards! (And that’s no exaggeration)

    August 8th, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News William H. “Dad” Martin of Ottawa, Kan., is considered to be the father of the exaggerated […]

    Paseo Boulevard Sunken Gardens

    July 31st, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News Over the Memorial Day holiday of 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Kansas City as a guest […]

    Kansas City’s first fire fighters honored

    July 25th, 2018

      Michael Bushnell Northeast News In March 1867, the Missouri Legislature granted permission to allow Kansas City to organize an […]

    All aboard for railroad’s Golden Age

    July 18th, 2018

    Michael Bushnell Northeast News The old Union Depot went out with a wild party in the fall of 1914, when […]

  • What’s Happening

    Nguyen sentenced to 74 years for murder, assault in arson case

    By Paul Thompson Northeast News Tearful testimony and a dramatic health scare marked the sentencing hearing of arsonist of Thu […]

    Prosecution seeks 89 years in Mesh, Leggio Arson Death

    By Michael Bushnell and Paul Thompson Prosecutors have released a 31-page memorandum requesting a sentence of 89 years for convicted […]

    Affordable Housing Policy hits the docket in KCMO

    Paul Thompson Northeast News The City of Kansas City, Missouri is taking big steps to ensure that the dream of […]

  • Local Weather