This is the second Historic postcard in a two week series spotlighting the American Legion Convention in 1921, when the Liberty Memorial site was dedicated, and the christening of the iconic American Legion Fountain during that same convention.
Originally designed as an ornate drinking fountain by noted Kansas City Sculptor Robert Merrill Gage, The American Legion Fountain was a fixture at Ninth and Main streets directly south of the newly completed Westgate Hotel (1916) for almost 40 years. When the Westgate, by then renamed the Hotel Kay, was demolished in September of 1954, the fountain stood alone in the busy intersection, a hazard to motorists as well as pedestrians who braved the traffic and the streetcars to get a drink of water.
In 1959, fearing the fountain’s demise, the City’s Park Board opted to move the fountain to a far less congested area of town, specifically, Van Brunt Boulevard and Budd Park Esplanade, in the heart of Historic Northeast Kansas City.
The elegant limestone fountain consisted of a large, carved basin supporting an eight-inch square shaft almost nine feet tall, topped with four vigilant eagles, one on each side. Bronze plaques bearing friezes of American Doughboys in action were inlaid into opposite sides of the shaft. The names of the American Legion Posts who sacrificed members during World War I are named on the other two sides of the shaft.
The dedication reads: “Dedicated by Kansas City to the American Legion Posts, October 31 – November 1, 1921. William T. Fitzsimmons, Murray Davis, William J. Bland, Joseph Dillon, Arthur Maloney, Sanford M. Brown Jr., James Cummins, Joseph Liebman, Hewitt Swearingen, Wayne Minor.”
In 2002 the fountain was struck and heavily damaged by a hit-and-run motorist. The shaft was knocked off its pedestal, the basin was broken into three pieces and the copper plumbing was damaged almost beyond repair. The Park Department carefully collected all of the pieces and it was carted off for possible restoration.
In May of 2006, the American Legion Fountain was returned to its location, fully repaired and restored to its original splendor, plumbing included. At the time, Park Department spokesperson Michael Herron indicated that over $25,000 was spent on its repair and restoration.
The sepia toned postcard showing the fountain at its original location was published by John Straley of Kansas City. Straley published a series of black and white postcards of a number of locations throughout Kansas City from his apartment at 213 N. Mersington Ave. here in Northeast. Special thanks to the Kansas City Public Library’s Missouri Valley Room Special Collections Department for the additional images and content for these two columns.