Penn Valley Park Conservancy


Restoring, preserving and enhancing historic Penn Valley Park
as a vital urban green space and as a recreational and cultural resource
for the enjoyment of all through education, advocacy and public/private partnerships


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Significance
Historic Resources Survey of the 1893 Parks & Boulevard System, Kansas City, Missouri
Prepared by Deon K. Wolfenbarger for the Prairie Gateway Chapter, American Society of Landscape Architects.

Penn Valley Park is significant for its association with the events surrounding the park movement in Kansas City. As one of the “triad” of major parks in Kessler’s original 1893 park system plan, it was the object of much intense local debate. Many voluntary groups were formed in the mid-nineties for the purpose of supporting various park projects. The most active of these was the “improvement association” formed by the property owners living around the Pen Street ravine. Although Penn Valley was among the Board’s original recommendations for acquisition, it as really the local citizens who banded together and saw to it that site purchased for the park was larger than the Board’s original proposal. The transformation of the area from the cheap houses and rubble to a finished park of natural beauty so impressed property owners in a neighboring residential district hat they purchased a similar tract of land and donated it to the city for a park. This tract became Roanoke Park.

Penn Valley Park is significant in the area of landscape architecture as the work of a master, George Kessler. Although the site had natural beauty, for years it was hidden by cheap housing and stores. After the condemnation proceedings, the land was pocked with old cellar excavations and rubbish heaps. Due to the steep topography, runoff water from the higher ground on the south, east, and west was washing away precious topsoil, which was so necessary for the new plantings. Kessler’s engineering and artistic skills are quite evident in the solutions he devised for this problem. An earth dam was built across the low northwest section, and water allowed to fill the basin to form a lake. As not all of the park drained into the lake, a system of underground drains was constructed to divert the runoff. Over three miles of park drives also carried away water with cement gutters. Kessler’s skill in enhancing the natural beauty of the site is also evident in the series of lookout points throughout the park, which afforded a variety of views of the city. The circulation system took advantage of these views and of easy grades wherever possible on this difficult site. In places where the roads were cut into limestone cliffs, specially designed masonry foundations blended in with stone ledges above.

Penn Valley Park, with the Liberty Memorial, is an example of a particular style of landscape architecture, while at the same time an example of time sequences as well. The majority of the park retains features of the American Romantic style of park design, while at the same time showing necessary adaptations for modern lifestyles. Like the other parks from this period it has many excellent examples of the stone features, which were constructed to blend with the naturalistic park design.