When the Waldo Water Tower came online a century ago, it was groundbreaking. At a capacity over a million gallons, the tower (technically called the Frank T. Riley Memorial) was one of the largest anywhere in 1920. It also served as one of the earliest models of a continuously poured, steel-reinforced concrete structure. The one-hundred-and-thirty-four-foot tower provided water to thousands of homes in south KC until it was retired by the water department in 1957.
After a few years of no use, the landmark tower succumbed to graffiti and disrepair. At one point, the body of a missing twenty-year-old man was found inside. Workers used a jackhammer to break a hole at the bottom of the structure to recover the body, and for years the patched hole remained visible.
Although the Waldo Water Tower is its neighborhood’s most notable landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, it sat crumbling for decades. Rust and deterioration had caused major structural problems that would cost an estimated one million dollars to fix. The project seemed impossible until Kurtis Marinez, founder of the Waldo Tower Historic Society, rallied supporters. Through advocacy and fundraising, the group eventually had the funds to restore Tower Park in 2015. The tower had its concrete patched and got a new roof and a fresh coat of paint. To cap it off, the group installed a lighting system to make the tower feel like an attraction.
“When sports teams say they’re going to have their home opener, they get in touch with us to make sure our tower is colored like all the rest of the other structures in the downtown area,” says Angie Lile, a member of the Waldo Tower Neighborhood Association, which also advocated for restoration.
Tower Park has seen improvements recently as well with park beautification and renovation of the baseball diamond. The neighborhood association has also held movie nights in the newly revamped park, with the lit Waldo Water Tower being the star attraction—a reminder of the community’s passion to improve a once-forgotten neighborhood landmark.
“The lighting was a big deal because we wanted it to be like a landmark in the neighborhood,” Lile says. “What neighborhood doesn’t want something cool like that?”