Now that the Twin Oaks apartments at 50th and Oak have been reduced – after nearly five months of demolition – to a mound of rubble, it’s time for a fond farewell to the two 11-story residential towers. But not a sad adieu to the memory of the buildings at the unattractive end of their 60-year life, but in the flush of the glamorous early years, back when Twin Oaks was considered the address for sophisticated Kansas Citians.
A color postcard produced shortly after Twin Oaks opened in 1949 describes it as “The Smart Twin Oaks … Your Address in the Fifties.” It lists the array of upscale amenities offered by the postwar apartment towers: “A modern design for living incorporating 612 apartments, a restaurant, shops and underground garage."
“It was the place to live in the 1950s and early ´60s,” recalls David Schneider, professional psychic and former host of the local TV series Psychic Voyages. “You had, right there in the building, valet parking, a restaurant, a bar, a clothing boutique and, in the basement, a full-service garage with a mechanic and gas pumps. Residents could call down to the basement and request that their cars be washed, filled with gas and brought out to the front of the building. And the restaurant was extremely popular. There would be an hour wait to get in on special occasions or for Sunday brunch. It was a see-and-be-seen place.”
But not everyone remembers the Twin Oaks restaurant as being so nice. Writer Ann Slegman dreaded being dragged to eat there as a child in the 1960s: “My grandparents liked eating there, for some reason. It was a white-tablecloth restaurant, but everyone in there was old and the sound of heavy clanking silverware was deafening. The only thing I remember about the food was that everything seemed to be covered with a thick layer of brown gravy.”
“It was really still quite nice in the 1960s,” Schneider says. “People would have wedding receptions and parties there. It went downhill after that. But did you know that in the 1980s it was a gay restaurant for a while? I didn’t care much for the two men who operated it, but they served very good fried chicken dinners. Of course, by then, all of the fashionable people had stopped eating there. A lot of the old people in the building would come in.”
And, one assumes, a few chicken-loving gays.
Oh, and on the subject of chicken, Schneider recalls the sad story of one of the more flamboyant residents of the building.
“There was a man who lived there in the 1960s who was a real chicken queen. He liked the young boys. He rented a studio in the building because the address still had some cachet then. He was mysteriously murdered in his apartment. I don’t think they ever found out who did it.”
Twin Oaks had lost a lot of its luster by the time Schneider moved into the building in the early 1990s. “I was working at the Twin Oaks salon, and I thought it would be convenient,” he says. “And I did have a very pretty apartment, but the buildings weren’t very well-maintained by then. There were cockroaches.”
By the beginning of this century, the once “smart” apartment building had grown shockingly downtrodden and UMKC (which bought the towers for $7.3 million from a private owner in 1998) spent a few more million on repairs, including ripping out the tattered hallway carpets that were held together with duct tape. After an engineering firm advised the school to tear down the buildings in 2002, UMKC ultimately decided to replace the aging structures with a 500-unit student housing complex. A coterie of Twin Oaks residents put up a legal battle to stop the demolition, but a wrecking ball smashed into the south tower in January.
By this point, all the glamorous amenities – the restaurant, the underground garage, the salon – had been all but forgotten. And now there’s nothing left to mark the heyday of the Twin Oaks except memories, piles of gray rubble -- and maybe the ghost of an old “chicken queen.” – Charles Ferruzza