He was in over his head.

A KC cereal heir dies trying to revitalize a desolate part of the city 

He was in over his head.

Page 2 of 6

A strip club has operated at Pure's location since 1988. People who live and work in the area say Knobtown hasn't changed much over the years. In 1975, a resident complained to The Kansas City Star that annexation hadn't brought the area a "damn thing" except more taxes.

That Star article describes how the neighborhood got its name. In 1897, a merchant named Charlie Engler built a general store near the Little Blue River. Engler decided to brand the area "Englersville," and he ordered a sign. A day or two later, he was found dead at his store, his suspenders wrapped around his neck. Engler's body was left hanging from a basement doorknob. His death was ruled a suicide; given the limits of forensic investigation in the late 19th century, murder seems just as likely. Either way, Englersville was now an inappropriate name for the community. The doorknob that may have played a role in his death provided an alternative.

Gary Watts, for one, thinks Knobtown needs a new identity. He'd like to see the community adopt a name with a classier ring. His choice: Silver Crossing.

Watts used to quarry limestone out of a hillside near the intersection of Highway 350 and Noland Road. Limestone wasn't worth much — and still isn't — but Watts scraped out a living. "I had a good market," he says. He had learned how to operate heavy equipment at a young age, digging graves and swimming pools. The military taught him how to use a crane. He bought the Knobtown quarry in 1985.

Watts and his twin brother, Terry, organized a company in 2002 with three other men. They called it Crush Tech. Through the course of their business dealings, the Watts brothers would meet John Uhlmann, lose the quarry and spend years in litigation. "We were screwed," Gary says. "There was nothing we could do about it."

To say Crush Tech became convoluted would be an understatement. Aspects of the business are still working their way through courtrooms. Terry Watts says he and his brother played the role of "village idiots" in the drama. His self-mocking tone communicates the relief he and his brother feel that they were pushed aside relatively early in the timeline of events. Uhlmann, who was in for a longer road, ended up in a place of despair.


A newsletter published in 2010 by Pembroke Hill School recognized the arrival of new legacies. The list included the great-grandson of R. Hugh "Pat" Uhlmann, who graduated from the elite prep school in 1933.

Pat Uhlmann was born in Kansas City. His father, Paul, was a German immigrant who built a successful grain company. After graduating from Dartmouth at a time when quotas suppressed Jewish enrollment, Pat learned the grain business in the pits at the Kansas City Board of Trade.

In 1951, Pat Uhlmann, his father and his brother, Paul Jr., bought a milling company. The business, which came to be known as the Uhlmann Co., eventually moved into consumer goods. The company owned the Wheatena and Maypo brands of cereal and sold charcoal under the names Patio Chef and Hickory River.

Away from the office, Pat Uhlmann took an active role in civic and religious affairs. He was the founding president of Friends of the Zoo and one of the founding members of the New Reform Temple. Established in 1967 at the intersection of Main Street and Gregory Boulevard, the New Reform Temple appealed to Jews who wanted less ritual and observance, with services conducted primarily in English.

Pat and his wife, Helen, had three children. John was the middle child. He attended Dartmouth and Kansas State after following in his father's footsteps at Pembroke. He came of age in a turbulent time. In 1970, he went to Vietnam, where he served in one of the Army's psychological-­operations units.

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