In 1940, the Works Progress Administration, in conjunction with the Jackson County Tax Assessor’s office and other local agencies, provided the manpower and partial funding for a photographic survey of all standing buildings in Kansas City, Missouri. The project produced thousands of images of residences, businesses, schools, churches, and government buildings, including many structures that are no longer in existence or would not have otherwise been photographed. The images consisted of small, black-and-white contact prints mounted on block record cards. Each card represented one city block and contained all photographs of properties within those block boundaries. For the purpose of identification, an indexing system by district-block-parcel was created, which allowed for complete accounting of every property in the city. The identification number was displayed on a sign in front of each building photographed, and a WPA worker is typically seen holding the sign or standing nearby in the frame.
After the tax assessment images were no longer useful for property valuations, they came into the possession of the Historic Preservation Commission of Kansas City (formerly the Landmarks Commission). In 2012 the collection was donated to the Kansas City Public Library and housed in Missouri Valley Special Collections. The photographs were digitized by the Library with the intention to make them more accessible to researchers and property owners.
The collection consists of more than 40,000 images of Kansas City residences and buildings in 1940. Each photographic print is approximately 1”x1.5”, mounted on 12”x18” cards, and organized by block. There may be only one image mounted on a card or as many as several dozen. There are 4,241 block cards in the collection, as well as 55 districts maps. Many of the cards also contain individual block maps, which are useful for locating a particular parcel.
The collection does not include all photographs that were taken as part of the 1940 tax assessment project. Several hundred block cards are missing from the original survey. Many other individual property photos were previously removed or otherwise missing before the Library took possession of the collection. The large numbers of photographs that remain, however, provide a unique snapshot of 1940 Kansas City.
Rights and Reproductions
Any of use of the images found in this collection should include the following credit: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri. To order an archival TIFF file, request a custom scan of an individual house or building, or to inquire about permissions, please contact Missouri Valley Special Collections at (816)701-3427 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional order information can also be found at www.kchistory.org.
How to Use This Collection
Since most of the tax assessment images are not identified or indexed by address, the best way to locate a particular block or individual property is to keyword search the nearest street intersection (e.g., 10th and Baltimore). The names of many recognizable buildings, businesses, neighborhoods, and landmarks have been indexed, and can be searched or browsed by subject (e.g., Union Station, Municipal Auditorium). The collection also lends itself to browsing block-by-block within a particular neighborhood.
Another option is to use the district maps to locate a specific block or group of blocks in a particular area. Once the district and block numbers are determined, the corresponding card(s) can be searched by district-block number (e.g., 17-166).
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