The story behind KCK’s bizarre iron statue

Photo by Jeremey Theron Kirby.

There’s a reason a large old-fashioned flat iron sits slightly askew on a little plot of land in Kansas City, Kansas, and it’s not as crazy as you think.

Nearly a century and half ago, a triangular “flat iron” building once stood in that exact spot. It was the city’s own mini version of the iconic trapezoid-shaped buildings, most of which were constructed around the turn of the 19th century and many of which still dot the country today. The buildings were named for the triangular shape that resembled a flat iron, a term that did not always mean a long, thin heated device for straightening and styling hair. It used to refer to a piece of cast iron with a handle that was heated in a fire or on a stove and then used to iron clothes back in the ancient times, when people still ironed clothes.

The building that sat between Seventh and Eighth streets on Central and Simpson avenues was built by Samuel Newell Simpson. Shortly after moving to Wyandotte from New Hampshire in 1877, Simpson started a real estate company and built the eye-catching structure. It is said that he also helped with the general plan of the area.

There are conflicting accounts as to when the building—which had been many things, including a hotel, bank, tavern, pool hall and bicycle shop—was actually torn down. Most likely, it was in the 1950s. It was reported that attempts were made to save and renovate the building, but it proved too costly.

The current cement sculpture of a flat iron is a modern-day landmark paying homage to a little bit of the city’s past.

In the early 1980s, civic leaders were looking to improve the business district, and as reported in the Kansas City Kansan newspaper at the time, they’d had enough of the empty, weedy, forlorn-looking lot.

“It’s a blight in the area,” said Robert Mayer, who was director of a community business association at the time.

“It’s really ugly,” said Phil Lammers, who worked in the city’s capital improvement division.

After a little cleanup and landscaping, Simpson Park was created. Soon after, city leaders thought more was needed and Flat Iron Park was envisioned. Then-city councilman George Lee Dunn said that no one read or remembered history placards, so why not build something that would catch people’s attention and that they would remember? Dunn purchased the materials and built the cement form himself. The city purchased the handle.   

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