Toast To Olde Tymes – The Oaklands
When Martha Deardorff Shields and Edwin W. Shields began building Oaklands, they had been married for more than a dozen years and were the parents of a daughter and a son. Edwin was a grain dealer. Martha’s father had been a lumberman, and her maternal grandfather had been a judge.
In July 1909, the Kansas City Star ran a brief article about the house, complete with drawing, with the headline: “E.W. Shields’s Country Home.” Any reader envisioning a cottage was in for a surprise – the estimated cost was $50,000. Wilder & Wight were the architects; Edward T. Wilder and Thomas Wight both had previously worked for the firm of McKim, Mead & White in New York. (Later, Thomas Wight and his brother William would create the firm Wight & Wight.) The Shields’ home was inspired by the design of English country houses. The plan was for a brick house, located on 10 of the fifty acres that Edwin Shields and Herbert F. Hall, a fellow grain dealer, had recently purchased. Herbert and his wife, Linda, would live in close proximity to the Shields. At that time, the University of Kansas City (now the University of Missouri–Kansas City) wasn’t even a gleam in an educator’s eye. During the 1960s, the Halls’ house was torn down to make way for an addition to the Linda Hall Library, which is located at 5109 Cherry Street. The house known as Oaklands still exists at 5110 Cherry Street, though it has undergone tremendous alterations.
In June 1916, the Shields hosted a garden Thé Dansant, a benefit tea dance for the Fine Arts Institute. Our scribe noted that “an affair in the gardens of Oaklands could not help but be a joy. Wonderfully spacious, nearly two blocks in length, beautifully terraced, and set with beds of brilliant blossoms, they alone would afford an afternoon of pleasure to the guests.” For the event, the tennis courts would serve as an “outdoor ballroom” with “the green about the space for table reservations.”
Martha would continue to reside at Oaklands, after Edwin died in January 1920. He was 52 years old and left an estate valued at $1.2 million.
Martha enjoyed entertaining, and the opening of the Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum (now The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) in December 1933, gave her the opportunity to show off her house and the antiques she had collected, including silver, china, tapestries, and paintings, to guests who appreciated the finer things in life. Joseph Duveen, the influential British art dealer, was already Lord Duveen of Milbank, when he glimpsed Oaklands – and he was impressed. He wasn’t the only one. Our scribe noted that “Dudley Crafts Watson, lecturer to the Art Institute of Chicago, declared that the recollection of Mrs. Shields’ beautiful home would live long in the memory of everyone who had been her guest.”
Martha’s children were both living in New York when she died in 1954. Martha had donated property to the University of Kansas City in the past, but Oaklands wasn’t destined to immediately become part of the campus.
The Barstow School, which was nearby, needed more space. As the Kansas City Times stated in May 1954:
“The spacious Shields home at 5110 Cherry street includes more than forty rooms and after remodeling will be an excellent beginning for expanded activities at Barstow. Other structures and athletic fields will be added later. Through a gradual move, the buildings and area at Fiftieth and Cherry [then the site of the school] will be abandoned and all activities will be housed in the former Shields properties.” A zoning modification was approved later that month. Kindergarten and nursery school students began classes at the house in September 1954.
Everything was going full steam ahead in October 1957, with plans to eventually have the nursery school through the seventh grade classes held there. It was thought that the eighth through 12th grades would remain at 4950 Cherry Street. In March 1959, however, it was announced that Barstow would move to a new campus at 115th and State Line Road. Midwest Research Institute would buy the property at 4950 Cherry Street, and the J.C. Nichols Company would become the owner of 5110 Cherry Street.
The next tenant was St. Paul’s School of Theology, Methodist. In August 1962, the Star wrote, “The leasing of the Edwin Shields property at 5110 Cherry… will provide for 22 administrative and faculty offices, classroom space, a chapel, a book store, a student union and library facilities for more than 20,000 volumes.” Alas, just three years later, all those books had to be moved again, this time to a campus at Truman Road and Van Brunt Boulevard. Perhaps the most lasting consequence was that Oaklands became known as Oxford Hall.
The J.C. Nichols Company had sold 5110 Cherry Street to UMKC. The price was $267,926 according to the Star, which stated in December 1965 that, “U.M.K.C. has established in the home its school of business and public administration. Dr. Jack D. Heysinger is dean, and has his headquarters in a remodeled office area.” By the end of the 1970s, Oxford Hall had a new neighbor, the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. The UMKC School of Business and Public Administration was renamed in honor of Henry W. Bloch in 1988. That same year saw Oxford Hall receive a major addition. As Donald Hoffmann, the Star’s art and architecture critic, wrote: “To keep the addition at home with Oxford Hall, the architects designed a hillside building with quietly mottled brick walls, discreet ornaments in cast stone, narrow window-openings (with an operable window in every room), and gabled roof lines.”
In 2010, the school officially became the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. A new building, the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, opened in August 2013. What was once Oaklands, and later Oxford Hall, is now the Bloch Heritage Hall. On July 30, 2022, the newly renovated building was the site of a celebration in honor of the 100th birthday of Henry W. Bloch, who died in 2019. The guests included members of the Bloch family, alumni, students, and community members.
What would Martha and Edwin Shields have thought, if they could have seen Oaklands that day? Perhaps they might have smiled, remembering the parties they gave there.
Featured in the September 2, 2023 issue of The Independent.
By Heather N. Paxton
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