Eighth Street Fountain
In the decades after World War I, this section of downtown Kansas City, known as the Garment District, became a major clothing manufacturing site. Dozens of garment companies employed thousands of workers here until the industry evaporated in the 1970s and 1980s. Today the Garment District is now primarily a residential and commercial area. The Eighth Street Fountain was erected in 1989 by the Historic Garment District Group to commemorate this important part of the city's history.
Backstory and Context
For half a century the Garment District was the center of a thriving clothing industry; at one point it was the second largest industry in Kansas City, and the second largest garment industry in the nation, next to New York City’s Garment District. The garment boom began in earnest following the end of World War I, when thousands of Eastern Europeans immigrated to the city through a new entry port in Galveston, Texas. Many of these immigrants had backgrounds as tailors and seamstresses, and they utilized these skills to open their own small clothing businesses. At the same time, many clothing manufacturers from the Eastern United States were moving to Kansas City to escape increasing labor costs and higher taxes. These immigrants and businesses set up shop in an area spanning from Sixth Street to 11th Street.
Soon there were numerous small and medium businesses in the Garment District employing hundreds of people to design, manufacture, and sell clothing. Companies included Donnelly, Mayfair Playwear, Mary-Lane Coats and Suits, and Gay Gibson Junior Dresses. Many of these produced dresses or work clothes for laborers. The garment industry continued to grow, peaking in the 1950s; at this point there were as many as 150 local garment businesses employing 8,000 people. Clothing manufacturing began to decline in the 1960s, and was virtually eliminated from the Garment District by the early 1980s. Reasons behind the collapse include the closure of small specialty dress shops in favor of chain stores; a decrease in demand for farm clothes; and the importation of cheaper clothing from overseas. Many of the former warehouses and factories in the Garment District were converted into residential apartments and commercial spaces in the 1980s, giving the neighborhood a new purpose.
With the conversion of the Garment District from an industrial to a residential area in the 1980s came efforts to preserve and celebrate the district’s garment manufacturing past. In 1989 the Historic Garment District Group commissioned a fountain to be built at the Godfrey and Blanche Jones Plaza on Broadway Boulevard and West 8th Street. It was designed by Theis Sickbert Associates and funded by the Jules and Doris Stein Foundation along with Proctor & Gamble, which was celebrating its sesquicentennial. The fountain features a brick wall dividing it in half, creating two separate designs. One side has water pouring down the brick wall, while the other side has water pouring through five spouts into a basin. The fountain serves as a gateway into the Garment District.
“8th Street Fountain.” Historical Marker Database. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=96403
Dodd, Monroe. “How Kansas City Clothed The Midwest For Much Of The 20th Century. KCUR. September 11, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2018. http://kcur.org/post/how-kansas-city-clothed-midwest-much-20th-century
“Eighth Street Fountain.” City of Fountains Foundation. September 14, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.kcfountains.com/single-post/2016/09/14/Eighth-Street-Fountain
Ferruza, Charles. “Ann Brownfield unzips history of Kansas City garment district on Sunday. The Pitch. September 12, 2013. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.pitch.com/news/article/20567276/ann-brownfield-unzips-history-of-kansas-city-garment-district-on-sunday
Mincer, Jilian. “Focus: Kansas City; Housing Just a Walk From Jobs.” New York Times. November 22, 1987. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/22/realestate/focus-kansas-city-housing-just-a-walk-from-jobs.html
“Wholesale District.” National Park Service – National Register of Historic Places. 1971. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/79001375.pdf
Images 1 & 2: https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=96403