For Neighbors, Construction On Kansas City Church Is Good News

Dec 9, 2014

Ivanhoe resident Mrs. Martha Tolbert welcomes construction at the Linwood Presbyterian Church and community center.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR

Martha Tolbert has lived directly across from the Linwood Presbyterian Church and adjacent Harold Thomas Center for more than 50 years.

The massive complex at Linwood Boulevard and U.S. Highway 71 has been an architectural icon in the Ivanhoe neighborhood since its construction around the turn of the century.  

But for decades, the buildings have been vacant, the majestic bell tower crumbling and the brick walls  increasingly dilapidated.

But that's all changing with a sweeping new $10 million development plan.

Beauty and Services Come To The Area

Each day, Tolbert hears the hum of backhoes, sees the bell tower draped in scaffolding and can watch the cranes lift debris all day long from her front porch.

It pleases her because it's a symbol of new life in her community.

"We all kind of come together from Linwood all the way to 47th Street in Ivanhoe (and we have) such a great thing going. I look forward to this (renovation)."

Since the mid 1990s, when church and community leaders were able to secure tax credits and loans with the help of a local bank as well as  private donations, the church and community center has been undergoing a rehabilitation. 

By this spring, Heartland Presbytery hopes to be relocated in the historic church building. ReDisover, a mental health and substance abuse center, and a community group called The Front Porch Alliance will be housed in the adjoining Harold Thomas Center.  

The next phase of the project calls for a senior living center.  

Reversing Decades of Decline

After the construction of U.S. Highway 71, the community was left bisected and economic decline sucked the life out of Ivanhoe. Membership at Linwood Presbyterian dwindled to almost nothing, and the church was forced to sell the buildings.

The new owners stripped the towering stain glass windows and fine wood finishing, leaving the building a boarded-up shell.

The facelift will not replace the stained glass but will flood the interior of the church with natural light.

A new bridge will link the Harold Thomas Center to the church.

Tolbert says the construction is finally looking like something.

"I see a parking lot over there, and new work that makes it look like the project is coming to fruition," she says. 

This look at Missouri and Kansas is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders  and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences on the state line with KCUR.