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Delbert J. Haff
Delbert James Haff

As a young lawyer, retained by the Board of Parks Commissioners in the late 1890´s, Delbert J. Haff constructed the legal framework necessary for the fulfillment of George E. Kessler's 1893 master plan for Kansas City´s famous parks and boulevards.

Mr. Haff and Arba S. Van Valkenburgh were the founding partners of a Kansas City law firm, but they were not from Kansas City. They graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and came to Kansas City because of the real estate boom and the prosperous outlook for young people. The boom collapsed in two years, but Haff and Van Valkenburgh had cemented their roots in Kansas City.

Haff cultivated mustaches, a pointed Vandyke beard, a growing law practice, and a developing interest in civic affairs. He helped organize the Municipal Improvement Association and serving as chairman of its park and boulevard committee. It is probably because of this experience that the first park board retained him to fight its unavailing legal battle before the Missouri Supreme Court. He drafted the revised Article X of the 1892 city charter, which established the park board presided over by August Meyer. In 1893 he became general counsel to the board, fought numerous legal charges to the parks board and drew up the law of 1893 and the 1895 charter.

Haff is credited with convincing Col. Thomas H. Swope to donate his land for a public park. This was a vast park containing almost 1,334 acres, at that time the second largest city park in the United States, and it was outside the city limits.

In 1909, a decade after leaving the parks board, Haff returned to the board as president. He was then pulled into the controversy over the building at Union Station and the park land across the street from the station. Not long after R.M. Hunt unveiled his civic center plan, his entire conception: station, plaza, and park; came under fire from Haff. He objected because the low elevation of the new depot required the city to grade the station park down at an estimated cost of $250,000. The result would be only a clay–banked amphitheater set in the high hill south of the station. As a solution Haff suggested that Hunt raise his station "ten to twenty feet" so that the job of grading across from it would not be so formidable
It would seem that the station and plans should be adjusted to the landscape, and not the landscape to the station, "Haff told the press.
By May 1912 both Hunt and the park board apparently had decided that they would take no immediate steps to expand little Station Park into a broad civic center, and therefore it was not advisable to grade it down. The new plan involved smoothing, terracing, and sodding the park rather than grading it to a level with the station plaza and 24th Street.

Haff´s work has been memorialized by Haff Circle and Haff Fountain, located at the entrance to Swope Park. The yard at 416 E. 36th Street had been landscaped by George E. Kessler.

Delbert J. Haff by Janice Lee, Kansas City Public Library Local History (includes picture)