The mansion at 4343 Oak Street in Kansas City, Mo., has been home to a notable procession of residents. The Georgian Revival-style home was built in 1907 for Dr. William Stone Woods and his wife, Albine (Bina) McBride Woods. The architect, Selby Kurfiss, was known as an “architect’s architect” because of his professionalism and mentoring of young architects. The mansion’s formal symmetric form was a favorite of his. Other Kurfiss-designed homes in that style survive at 3733 Gilham Rd. and 2204 West 59th St.
The mansion’s first owner, Dr. Woods, had been orphaned at an early age and raised by his grandparents. He earned a medical degree and practiced as a doctor in Monroe County, Mo., until 1867, but eventually succumbed to the lure of commerce. He started a business with his brother selling groceries and supplies to workers building the Union Pacific Railway and used his profits to establish the Rocheport Savings Bank in Rocheport, Mo. He moved to Kansas City, where he rose to chairman of the board of the National Bank of Commerce and acquired a controlling interest in a string of banks stretching from Missouri to New Mexico.
Friends knew him for his business acumen and loyalty. Harry Truman, who worked in Woods’ bank as a cashier, said of his boss: “There are dozens of stories about his close accounting of the nickels and the pennies but if he chose to back a man, he stayed with him through thick and thin if that man had energy and character.”
But his business savvy couldn’t save the bank, which closed after the 1907 bank crisis. William T. Kemper Sr., who Woods had hired as bank vice president in 1906, merged the Bank of Commerce into Commerce Trust Company, which became today’s Commerce Bank. Dr. Woods lived in the mansion at 43rd and Oak only a few years. He retired from banking and moved to California because of his wife’s poor health.
The next inhabitant of the home was F.J. Moss, who was president of American Sash and Door Company. Later, as chairman of the National Sash, Door and Millwork Manufacturers Association, he championed the establishment of a “minimum wage,” and advocated that manufacturers adopt a profit sharing system for their employees.
In 1914, Moss sold the house to Edward F. Swinney, a national figure in the financial world. Swinney and his wife, Ida Lee, had previously lived in a house they built in Kansas City’s Hyde Park district. Edward Swinney had moved in 1875 with his widowed mother from Virginia to Fayette, Mo., where he started his banking career as a teller. By 1927, he was chairman of the First National Bank of Kansas City. Known as “The Boss,” his fiscal philosophy was to keep a very liquid position and avoid having to borrow from the Federal Reserve. It proved prudent. First National grew through adversity and depressions to become one of the strongest banks in the nation. He was also a philanthropist. Swinney Gymnasium at the University of Missouri-Kansas City honors his legendary contributions to education in Kansas City.
In 1927, Swinney sold the home to the Missouri State Nurses Association, K.C. Branch, which used it as a dormitory for nurses.
In 1947, the nearby Kansas City Art Institute leased 4343 Oak from the Nurses Association to accommodate the influx of students enrolling under the G.I. Bill. It housed 31 female students. The Art Institute subsequently purchased the house, but sold it in 1976 to attorney William H. Pickett, who died in the house in 2009.
Pickett made significant improvements, laying a cobblestone driveway and installing an iron and brick fence. He kept the interior mostly in its original condition, but after Pickett’s death the building was empty long enough for deterioration and pilfering to occur. The Roland and Marcia Sabates family purchased the home in 2010. After a two-year renovation and restoration, it’s ready to face its next century.