The House that Syphilis Built

So many stories in one house

Dr Generous Henderson House

My dream house could never possibly be without any stories. The Doctor Generous Henderson House is nothing but one story after another. Truth woven with legend. This might be the new love of my life.  Built in 1899, it is the sole remaining Second Renaissance Revival style in Kansas City, and it became a historic landmark in the late 70’s.

Even if I left out the myths and urban legends, it’s still a fascinating history. As I said up there, 1899. The Paseo was just emerging as the newest enclave for the wealthy and beautiful. “Dozens of shabby frame houses and lesser shacks were torn down on the stretch between 10th and 11th streets in 1897”  The thing is, The Paseo has been synonymous with “ghetto” *again* since .. the forties. Ashes to ashes, slums to slums.

The original owner, Dr Generous Henderson, brought his medicine practice from Chicago around 1880. Dr. Henderson treated “Chronic, nervous, and special diseases.” “Private diseases” His ads in local publications of the times “offered picture books describing diseases, and mentioned the free museum in his office.”  (As an aside, I would kill to have been able to visit that museum)

Dirty diseases were big business.  Allegedly, he saw his most famous clients outside of his offices and in his home for their maximum privacy.  One urban legend, in fact, is that Al Capone was initially diagnosed with the syphilis that eventually killed him at Dr Henderson’s house.  Such big business, that Dr Henderson grew quite wealthy.  So he and his wife took his VD money and built this masterpiece. There is even a ballroom on the 3rd floor.  It seems he and his wife had intentions of being in the highest echelons of society. It just never quite worked out for them, though.

Firstly their end of  The Paseo never truly caught on as The Place To Be.  Lots of hotels and apartments went up instead.  I imagine his chosen specialty might have had something to do with keeping them “NOTD”  (Not Our Type, Dear). And then in 1913, the good doctor was charged with mail order fraud as he branched out further in his curatives for nasty little social diseases.

Dr. Henderson died in 1924 and his wife a few years later.  By the end of the 20’s, the house had become just another boarding house, albeit a very nice one.  Alas, it fell further, because by World War II, it had become a brothel.

By World War II, the place had found yet another calling, as a bawdyhouse. During this incarnation, which amounts to a cosmic joke at Henderson’s expense, sinks and toilets were installed in odd spaces throughout the house, even in a corner just outside the grand third-floor ballroom.

that's a weird place for a sink

I can see how that could be super handy, sure.   🙂

As that era ,too, declined, so did the house.  By the mid to late 70’s, my beautiful house had become something of a small transient hotel.   When the manager, Johnny T. Howard, was mysteriously gunned down during a little party he was hosting in 1978, it was only a matter of days before the property was standing empty.  It was sold numerous times before someone bought it who wanted to strip it down and do a chop-shop number on it.  Luckily, it was made a historic landmark just in time.

Historic Registry Plaque

I would buy this place so fast.  I can imagine myself there so easily.  A ballroom,  a special landing built so musicians could greet guests as they enter thru the foyer, a little tunnel in the basement that links the main house to the little stone gate house.  The thing is, though, I could only imagine myself among the interior of the house.  The surrounding area is such crap.

In reality, I will probably never afford this treasure.  So until my destiny is fulfilled with the lottery, I hope someone else buys it.  I would love to see this house restored fully.  In my opinion, few homes have ever had such class and beauty.  Although, if it were up to me, I’d totally leave the hooker sink up next to the ballroom.

Postcard of The Paseo in 1906


~ by Layla on August 1, 2011.

9 Responses to “The House that Syphilis Built”

  1. Cool blog with great info

  2. The post you wrote is really interesting.

  3. I like Your Article about The House that Syphilis Built News of the Highly Bizarre Perfect just what I was looking for! .

  4. But why would a bawdyhouse need sinks and toilets in odd spaces? Not that I don’t love that…

    • I don’t know, but an offhand guess would be “so the hookers can discreetly and quickly …clean up?”

    • Actually the plumbing referred to was installed in much more recent years by the guy who saved it from the bulldozer William Poole about 2008 or so.

  5. That is sick!! I still am taken aback that this really went on in todays day and age. I was relieved I was sitting down for this. We know what will happen to this. I will watch closely to see what is happening and going forth.

  6. Where to begin?

    I actually was a good friend of William Poole the latest owner and the one that saved the historic mansion from destruction. The deed previously was owned by Gates of the Gates BBQ notoriety a philanthropists of sorts. Paseo was called “Millionaires Row” for a time after the house was erected during the time of the Lumber Barons. It also was on the fringes of the Jazz District of the 40’s and 50’s. Doctor Generous was a well known partier and kept a party barge down on the Missouri River. The mansion was part of the Paseo project which christened the start of urban planning in Kansas city. In the 1970’s “Millionaires Row” was demolished and replaced with the projects the public provided housing which still stands today. In 1978 the application for becoming a historic landmark for the place was made and later approved. In the 1980’s you could pay $5 and get a tour of the place. The owner then was murdered answering the front door yet another unsolved KC homicide it seems. As for Al Capone visiting the lace while it is likely it probably wasn’t to be treated for the syphilis that killed him but more likely where he contracted the disease. The place was more widely known as a palace of ill-repute in his time.

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