Kansas City, MO

The country's first suburban outdoor shopping district was Kansas City's Country Club Plaza built 100 years ago

CJ Coombs

Country Club Plaza (view from 47th Street), Kansas City, Missouri.Charvex, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Country Club Plaza showed its face in 1923. Honestly, I don’t recall the first time I saw the Plaza after my family moved to Kansas City. I do know I was a teenager and I remember being amazed by the annual lighting of the Christmas lights across every single building.

This immense shopping center is located in what’s part of the Country Club District and not too far from downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

J.C.Nichols gets a lot of credit for the planning. The architectural designs include Baroque Revival and Moorish Revival styles intended to capture architecture seen in Seville, Spain. 

It took Nichols nine years to buy up the land in the area, including Lyle Rock Co. In 1921, Nichols spent one million dollars to acquire 40 acres at the future site of the Country Club Plaza. In total, 26 houses and stores in bad condition were leveled to the ground. (Source.)

The streets support high-end retailers, good food in its restaurants, and offices. I was disappointed when Panache chocolatier relocated from the Plaza to Leawood, Kansas in 2019.

Even back in 2008, 60 of the World’s Great Places published in Project for Public Spaces, had the Country Club Plaza on that list.

The world’s first (1922) and probably best shopping center built to accommodate the auto. (Source.)

For new Kansas Citians, where is the Plaza?

The Plaza is south of downtown between 46th Street to the north and Brush Creek to the south, Mill Creek Parkway to the east, and Madison Avenue to the west. You're also not far from the Kansas state line.

Once you arrive at the Plaza, park and walk. Every building is unique in its design. Sometimes, you might think that you’re somewhere else. And, it wasn’t an accident that J.C. Nichols was influential in making sure that what’s known as US 56 today passed through the Plaza. Convenient access to US 56 is US 71.

For as long as the Plaza has existed, that speaks a lot about bringing an idea to fruition through planning and development.

It was a masterstroke: placing a shopping destination in the path of one of the primary automobile entrance points to the city. (Source.)

The Plaza is also close to the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), the Kansas City Art Institute, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Country Club Plaza (view from J.C. Nichols Parkway at 47th Street).Charvex, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1998, the J.C. Nichols Company merged with Highwoods Properties which managed the Plaza for some time. In 2016, the Country Club Plaza was jointly purchased by The Macerich Co. out of Santa Monica, California, and Taubman Centers near Detroit for $660 million. According to the publication, Ingram’s, Taubman was being purchased by Simon Property Group for $3.6 billion

Interestingly, in 2018, Nordstrom announced it was leaving the Oak Park Mall in Kansas for new digs at the Country Club Plaza. The move was supposed to occur in 2021 but the pandemic put the brakes on that. Then, it was supposed to be the Fall of 2023. This year, Nordstrom announced it wasn’t moving from Kansas. When businesses start closing in an area, that's reason enough. But positive changes happen too. For example, Nike by Kansas City will be in the former Tesla showroom.

Some people think the space intended for Nordstrom shouldn’t be filled with a shopping retailer since many perform shopping online now. Since everyone and their brother (and me) go to Target, why not put in a nice Target? It would be convenient for the area and bring more shoppers to the Plaza. There has to be something of value to tackling the space. There doesn't need to be a movie theatre since people stream movies.

The Plaza touts its ’15 blocks of endless possibilities,’ and there is a ring of truth to that even if you don’t make any purchases. Take a stroll and grab a treat at Ice Cream Bae or lunch at P.F. Chang’s, one of my favorites. There are 100 retailers, many of them upscale, but aside from going to shop in person, it’s a fun area to go and walk around, especially when you want to get outdoors after winter.

Opened in 1923, the Mill Creek Building was J.C. Nichols’ first commercial building on the Country Club Plaza. It still stands today at 4646 Mill Creek Parkway, across the street from the fountain at Mill Creek Park. (Source.)

The strings of lights draw in the lines of people

Probably, the most popular reason crowds of people travel to the Country Club Plaza (and whether they live in Kansas City or not) is to embrace an annual trip to see the Christmas lighting. It's become a traditional event for many families. Some even try to book a hotel room to watch from their windows.

Historically, this has been taking place since 1930. Families have their Thanksgiving meal, then try to find the best route by car knowing they will be in a line of other cars. If you watch the affair on television, you know a special guest turns on the switch. I think that's a great option, but it's more fun to be on the ground. I'm okay with the memories of seeing lights appear even during the times my car was in a line. It was still special. The lights will glow through part of January in the following year.

Country Club Plaza by night during the holidays next to Brush Creek.Hngrange, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks for reading!

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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