All Around Town: The Country Club Plaza: A 90-year tradition continues

Nathan Zoschke

Tile roofs, exquisite towers and mosaic tiles have distinguished the Plaza for nearly 90 years. The original architecture has been vigilantly preserved.
Tile roofs, exquisite towers and mosaic tiles have distinguished the Plaza for nearly 90 years. The original architecture has been vigilantly preserved.

When J.C. Nichols began purchasing property in 1907 to build the Country Club Plaza, his plan was soon dubbed “Nichols’ folly.”

Brush Creek collected waste runoff from nearby hog farms, and the city limits ended at 47th Street. Lacking were the upscale residences in Brookside and along Ward Parkway. Kansas City’s wealthy elites lived predominately in Hyde Park and the Historic Northeast.

By 1922, when construction on the Country Club Plaza began, the development momentum had shifted southward, and the Plaza was ripe for picking.

The original plans for the Plaza by architect Edward Buehler Delk contained a central landscaped square or plaza surrounded by low-rise buildings with wrought-iron ornamentation, tile roofs and decorative towers, all influenced by Nichols’ affection for Seville, Spain.

Although the actual plaza was never built, the name has stuck, as has the Plaza’s reputation among Kansas City’s upper crust.

A small-scale replica of Seville’s Giralda Tower was added to the Plaza in the late 1960s. Seville was the prototype for the Plaza’s architecture and is one of Kansas City’s sister cities.
A small-scale replica of Seville’s Giralda Tower was added to the Plaza in the late 1960s. Seville was the prototype for the Plaza’s architecture and is one of Kansas City’s sister cities.

The original Plaza, which contained a gas station and amenities like a bowling alley and department stores, functioned more as a neighborhood center as opposed to the regional mall it is today. Then, the city’s retail was concentrated downtown.

Over time, the importance of the Plaza increased as the city spread further south and new buildings were constructed, including a replica of the Giralda Tower in Seville in 1969.

In the late 1970s, a massive overflow of Brush Creek completely flooded the Plaza, forcing many stores to close. Some speculated the damage was beyond repair, but the Plaza quickly rebounded.

Today, the Plaza’s architecture remains vigilantly protected, as does the area’s reputation, but the past several years are by no means a high point in the Plaza’s history.

Like many upscale shopping centers, the Plaza suffered a surge in the number of vacant storefronts after the recession. News of youth flash mob altercations created unease among some, and plans to tear down part of the historic Balcony Building to construct a high-rise office building ruffled the feathers of many.

But once again, the Plaza has proven to be resilient. A youth curfew ordinance was quickly passed by the mayor and city council, and plans to tear down the Balcony Building were quickly scrapped after a backlash of public opinion.

And the vacant storefronts are filling up quickly.

Several existing tenants have relocated to larger, more high-profile spaces, and the recent addition of upscale boutiques like Kate Spade and Michael Kors and a soon-to-open flagship H&M have generated excitement and buzz.

The abundance of upscale sought-after labels is one of the Plaza’s selling points. What other medium-size city can boast having a Fogo de Chao, Apple Store, Tiffany & Co., Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Capital Grille, Restoration Hardware and Armani Exchange all within such close proximity?

The ornate detailing and influence of the architecture of Seville adorn the Country Club Plaza.
The ornate detailing and influence of the architecture of Seville adorn the Country Club Plaza.

And unlike other shopping centers that have been overrun by national chains, the Plaza maintains a balance between national and local. Earlier this year, the Kansas City Star reported that 52 of the Plaza’s 136 tenants are locally owned.

Several local establishments stand out among the rest.

Halls Plaza

Kansas City is home to two Halls department stores: Halls Plaza and Halls Crown Center, and both are locally owned subsidiaries of Hallmark Cards

Halls appeals to Kansas City’s extremely well-dressed with sought-after brands like Lacoste, Diesel, True Religion, 7 for All Mankind, Prada and much more.

The casual men’s section, Halls Downstairs, is markedly different from the rest of the store with its contemporary feel. Think of it as a high-end version of Buckle sans the cheese.

Those whose taste exceeds their bank account balances can at least appreciate the window shopping experience.

Standard Style Boutique

Like Halls, Standard Style is high end and locally owned. However, its boutique space is much smaller and caters exclusively to a younger demographic.

The store feels modern, contemporary and sophisticated, as are the labels it carries.

The low-rise scale of the central core of the Plaza gives the area a quaint, pleasant appeal. Trees, flowers and brick pavers create a garden-like feel.
The low-rise scale of the central core of the Plaza gives the area a quaint, pleasant appeal. Trees, flowers and brick pavers create a garden-like feel.

LattéLand

LattéLand is the local alternative to Starbucks on the Plaza. Its coffee has a distinct rich flavor, a welcome improvement over Starbucks for coffee snobs/aficionados, whichever term they prefer to be called.

LattéLand’s chai has a decadent creamy taste and a milkier consistency than most other chai drinks, and the whipped cream doesn’t taste like the disgusting Reddi Whip used by other coffee shops.

The Better Cheddar

It’s cheesy, but in the gourmet sense of the world. The Better Cheddar sells exquisite aged cheeses, preserves and other gastronomical delicacies from around the globe.

The store has been locally owned since 1983 and sells nearly 4,000 specialty items.

Plaza Dining

Those wanting a nice night out on the town will appreciate the abundance of local options on the Plaza, ranging from the Melting Pot’s savory fondue to Classic Cup’s eclectic menu of both traditional American dishes and exotic international plates.

Blanc Burgers and Bottles specialize in gourmet hamburgers and an exceptional beverage menu, while Eden Alley Café is a favorite among those who appreciate vegetarian and vegan cuisine.

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