Family critical of county park district’s decision to raze Shawnee house
Sara Mack Riden fondly remembers visiting her grandparents’ property, Oakridge Farm just north of Shawnee Mission Park, as a child.
“It was a neat place to be — it was unique,” Riden said. “We learned about nature out there; we learned how to shoot a gun. My brother and his friends would go get frogs out of the pond, we’d swim in the ponds and skate on them in the winter.”
And while they could have sold to a developer, in an effort to save this idyllic property for more, Warren and Charlotte Mack sold the 363-acre property to the Johnson County Park and Recreation District for $1.8 million in 1987, including their 5,000-square-foot, colonial-style home, with the proviso that Charlotte Mack could continue to live there as long as possible.
The plan agreed upon was to make the property into a natural preserve, with picnic areas; horse, hiking, running and biking trails; and a wildflower meadow and prairie restoration areas, with suggestions for the house including public restrooms, small meeting and event spaces with the kitchen, and perhaps even overnight stays in the upstairs bedrooms.
“When Grandma was asked what they were going to do with the house, she always said, ‘A nature center,’” said Riden, who is the daughter of Warren and Charlotte Mack’s youngest son.
But now, JCPRD’s board of directors has voted to raze the house, citing deterioration of the home and the cost of renovating it.
Riden sees it as a squandered opportunity to create another unique feature for Shawnee Mission Park — something that was delayed and neglected for far too long.
“It’s always been blown over, looked over, pushed aside,” Riden said. “It’s like another project they don’t want to have. They just kept sweeping it under the rug, so they’re going to quit sweeping and just tear it down.”
The Macks were known as owners of lumberyards throughout the state, and they owned several businesses in the Kansas City area, including Shawnee Color Center at Johnson Drive and Nieman Road. They bought the farm land in 1941, and while it wasn’t their main source of income, they ran a dairy farm, grew crops like corn and had a small orchard on the property.
Charlotte Mack lived in the Oakridge Farm house until 1999, and then park staff members resided there until 2010, helping maintain it.
The plan for the property formulated by JCPRD in 2007 didn’t specify a use for the house but did call for it to be saved. But in the district’s new 15-year master plan, created last year and called the Legacy Plan, consultants had reversed that plan because it likely would be more cost-effective to create a multi-use pavilion or shelter than to renovate the house to be ADA accessible. Recent vandalism at the property caused the decision to raze the property to be brought to the board in March, and in April, a subcommittee was created to study the issue.
The subcommittee did not agree on whether to save the house, but in June, the board voted to raze the home, given the renovation costs of the house — now estimated at $1 million — and an estimated $900,000 cost to put in a paved road to the house, plus the need for staffing and security of the house. The subcommittee recommended if the house was razed, a significant exhibit that describes the history of the house and property would be put in its place.
The next step for the district would be to select a firm for the house’s demolition. Jeff Stewart, deputy director for the district, said the building has been secured and an asbestos analysis has been performed. The district board’s next meeting is July 20, but the agenda is not yet available.
Riden says she and her family would like to see the district reverse its decision. She says she wishes the district had not allowed itself to become distracted by so many other projects and had focused on its plan for the property to start with.
She said the Mack family knows they no longer have a say, but she feels the district has a responsibility to the citizens to make good use of property it purchased.
“I want people, Johnson County and beyond, to be able to utilize the house,” she said. “You don’t owe me, you owe the taxpayers.”