I couldn’t wait to show Stu the Country Club Plaza! Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza was the first shopping center in the world designed for shoppers coming by automobile in 1922. The “Plaza” was also one of the first shopping centers in the country to be designed with a unifying theme and architecture. The Country Club Plaza was named for the nearby Kansas City Country Club (now Loose Park).
Developer J.C. Nichols began purchasing the land for the “Plaza” in 1907. The development project was the butt of local jokes since no development of its kind had ever been undertaken. The site was marshy and was next to a pig farm as well as a factory known for spewing smoke. Local leaders feared the project was too far (5 miles) south of the downtown to draw visitors and shoppers.
J.C. Nichols traveled to Europe in 1921 and fell in love with the architecture of Spain and the ambiance of European cities. The shopping center was designed by architect, Edward Buehler Delk to mimic Seville, Spain. Seville is now Kansas City’s Sister City. There are 18 separate buildings on the Plaza and it has been Kansas City’s crown jewel since it was built.
There are more than 30 statues, murals and tile mosaics on the Plaza and reproductions of famous Seville landmarks. For example, the Plaza boasts a half-sized Giralda Tower of Seville, which is the tallest building on the Plaza. Reproductions of San Francisco’s Path of Gold streetlights glow in the evening as people from all over the city come to stroll.
City leaders in the early 1900s planned residential neighborhoods with curved streets, architecturally compatible homes, statuary and boulevards just to the south of the Plaza site. These neighborhoods remain some of the most luxurious and sought-after in the city.
THE PLAZA TODAY
Today, the Plaza houses high-end shops like Gucci, Tiffany & Company, Michael Kors and more. Restaurants and sidewalk cafes attract tourists and Kansas Citians for fine dining.
Apartment buildings from the 1920s with intricate architectural details line the streets to the north and west of the Plaza. Luxury hotels have located across Brush Creek to the south. Clay tennis courts are open to the public. Just to the east of the Plaza, you will find the Nelson-Atkins Gallery of Art with perhaps America’s finest collection of Chinese art and porcelain. The Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Missouri at Kansas City campuses are a short walk away.
THE PLAZA LIGHTS
In 1925, several Plaza merchants voted to decorate the sidewalks with miniature Christmas trees and outdoor lightbulbs. Each year, the number of Christmas lights increased until an official lighting ceremony was held in 1930.
Today, every building on the Plaza is outlined with sparkling lights from Thanksgiving Night until the New Year. Hundreds of thousands of people gather Thanksgiving evening to watch the lighting of the Plaza lights and see colors burst into the night. Friends stroll the streets to sing carols and celebrate the season.
When I was old enough to drive, my family actually planned Thanksgiving around the Plaza Christmas Lighting. Each year growing up, our high school and college friends met at the Plaza on Thanksgiving to marvel at the lights and sing in the streets all evening long.
The men and women who were innovative enough to envision the Plaza and tree-lined boulevards with fountains and statuary left their mark on Kansas City. Still a favorite area in Kansas City, the Country Club Plaza and surrounds have proven that inspired design, innovation and touches of Europe stand the test of time.