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What is the "quality" in Quality Hill?

This downtown neighborhood is the longest continuously occupied part of the metro. For most of Kansas City's early days, Quality Hill was considered the swankiest part of town, with mansion-lined streets and upscale businesses. The story goes that the area was dubbed "Quality Hill" in the 1880s when developer Kersey Coates platted subdivisions in the area that became popular with wealthy people moving to town from the East. The neighborhood was a favorite of political boss Tom Pendergast, who placed a statue of his brother Jim in Case Park. It was also relatively diverse for the time, and the YMCA on Washington Street used to be a Jewish gentlemen's club called the Progress Club. Quality Hill took a serious dive in the 1960s, and homeowners fled for trendy neighborhoods on the rise, like the Country Club Plaza. The neighborhood became lousy with abandoned mansions, burned-out structures and flophouses. That version of Quality Hill would be unrecognizable to new transplants to the city. In the late 1980s and early aughts, developers revitalized the area with apartments and condos built out of the neighborhood's iconic reddish brick.

click to enlarge _0_0000_morgue_1978_0128_coateshousefire_02_dscn4168.jpg

The worst fire in Kansas City history was ... ?

In terms of deaths, the worst was the burning of the Coates House Hotel in Quality Hill on January 28, 1978. Over the course of a couple of decades, the hotel had shifted from one of the city's most luxurious places to stay — it hosted a few presidents, according to some stories — to a flophouse with about 140 residents, most of whom paid cheap weekly rent. Twenty people died in the blaze that raged from 4 to 8 a.m. It was 5 degrees the morning of the fire, and fire-department ladder trucks froze while being raised. According to an Associated Press news story from that day: "At least four of the victims plunged to their deaths from upper stories of the six-floor building to the pavement below." One witness of the fire told the AP, "People were hanging out the windows, screaming for help." Now there are offices on the site of the hotel at 1005 Broadway.

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