McElroy headline

An article in a May issue of the Daily Journal introduced readers to “one of the handsome homes of Kansas City,” the residence of the Hugh L. McElroy family at 1598 East Eighth Street. “So much is written of the energy and enterprise of business life in the Missouri valley,” the article begins, “that the stranger within our gates is prone to ask if existence here is exclusively commercial – if we are a migratory people, registered at hotels, and subsisting at restaurants.”

The article’s purpose is to point out the quality of upper middle class life, “the social status and intellectual inclinations of the men and women whose permanent homes are in this city.” The McElroy home is presented as an example: “massive and imposing, suggesting substantiality.”

Hugh McElroy is described in the Jackson County biographies as “a man of varied resources.” He founded the Kansas City National Bank, the second bank organized in Kansas City. Involved in other business enterprises in the city, he is described as “seldom, if ever, in error in matters of financial judgment.” [1]

The Journal writer describes the home’s exterior: colonial yellow with brown trimmings… broad and long verandahs… in the midst of a lawn dotted with rare specimens of cacti,” before moving to the interior with a reception hall “a scene of extended beauty and grandeur… in maple and black walnut, with panels and frieze of wild roses and sweet-briar on pearl-colored walls. Full length mirrors are set between double arches on either side.”

The McElroy’s decidedly eclectic decorations include “rare Turkish and Persian rugs collected in foreign lands…. a hand carved olive wood griffin from Venice…. A bronze bust of a Circassian girl,” and a “life-sized statue of a Nubian slave in the magnificent costume worn while serving in the palaces in the time of the doges.”

McElroy drawing room

The drawing room furnishings include “Bronze incense burners used in old cathedrals, and brought from Rome and Venice… a little tear bottle and its time colored stopper from the catacombs, a Roman lamp of pottery with the face of Bacchus, found by Mr. McElroy in a new excavation in the baths of Caracalla, Rome….” 

Looting classical sites was apparently acceptable at the time; the residence’s collection also displays a Roman lamp “of the finest ancient mabler [sic] with a superbly carved head of Job” and a piece of plaster from the walls of a house in Pompeii.  Contemporary bric-a-brac included “a quill pen of Parnell’s, from his desk in the house of parliament; violets from the mass of flowers which covered Victor Hugo’s casket while his body lay in state, and immortelles from the tomb of Abelard and Heloise, in Pere la Chaise, in Paris.”

McElroy Music room

The music room features a grand piano, a music box from Geneva, a mandolin from Japan, and a clutter of other objets d’art : a Persian vase, a perfume bottle “in its wicker cover from the old monastery in the suburbs of Florence…. a rosary blest by the pope while Mrs. McElroy was in Rome…. an urn of Benares brass from the Ganges,” these only a few of the articles, reports the writer, “which delight the fancy and appeal to the cultivated taste.” [2]

Where the McElroy home stood at 1598 East Eighth Street there is now a vacant lot.

1598 East Eighth Street 2012

August 28, 2012

[1]Carrie Westlake Whitney. Kansas City, Missouri: Its History and Its People: 1808-1908 (Vol 3).

[2] “The McElroy Residence.” Daily Journal, May 21, 1893, p. 10.