COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA
Ward Parkway and Broadway Street
Kansas City, Missouri


COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA, the nation's first large-scale, auto-centric retail hub, was built on a 55 acre parcel, located 2.8 miles south of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. It was envisaged as a commercial core for the Country Club District development, which was built by KC-based Jessie Clyde ("J.C.") Nichols between 1906 and 1950. 

When completed, the Country Club District was reputedly the nation's largest planned community constructed by a single entity. The master plan for COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA was created by Edward Buehler Delk. Boulevards and parks were layed out by George E. Kessler and most structures designed by Edward W. Tanner. A Spanish Colonial Revival motif was used for buildings that was heavily influenced by the architecture of Seville, Spain.

The prospective commercial complex, being constructed on land previously devoted to a hog farm and garbage dump, was dubbed "Nichol's Folly". However, soon after its March 1923 dedication, the retail venue had proved to be an astounding success.

The first structure, housing Chandler's Landscaping & Floral Company, predated the actual shopping center by 6 years. The second structure, originally known as the Suydam Building (later as the Mill Creek Building), was the first erected as part of COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA, per se. This was joined by the Triangle Building, Tower Building and Balcony Building. By 1925, there were six operational retail structures and over thirty-five stores and services. 

Early tenants included a Piggly Wiggly grocery (1923), Wolferman's grocery (1924), Emery, Bird & Thayer department store (1925) and S.S. Kresge 5 & 10 (1937). There were also a Kroger Cash & Carry Market, Plaza Bowl bowling alley and eight filling stations. The posh Plaza Theater, with its 72-foot-tall tower, showed its first feature October 9, 1928. The J.C. Nichols Building and Plaza Esplanade Building soon followed.

Mr. Nichols spared no expense in gracing courts and green space with statuary and fountains. By the 1940s, COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA was revered as America's greatest outdoor art gallery.

Sears joined the tenant roster, on January 1, 1947, with a 4-level (150,000 square foot) operation. This store, which included a freestanding Garden Shop and Auto Center, was the chain's first suburban shopping center location. Harzfeld's, a KC-based specialty retailer, opened an On The Plaza store April 10, 1954.

KC-based Emery, Bird & Thayer completed an expansion of their On The Plaza store in 1962, enlarging it to 3-levels and 44,000 square feet. Halls (of Hallmark Greeting Cards) opened their store on October 4, 1965. Known as Halls On The Plaza, it featured inlaid Lapis floors and Baccarat crystal chandeliers. There was a parking garage on its upper level. 

Shopping malls in the immediate vicinity of COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA included WARD PARKWAY CENTER (1962) {4.6 miles southwest, in Kansas City, Missouri}, BANNISTER MALL (1980) {6.6 miles southeast, also in Kansas City, Missouri} and METCALF SOUTH CENTER (1967) {7 miles southwest, in Overland Park, Kansas}.

Emery, Bird & Thayer was shuttered August 8, 1968. Its space re-opened as Macy's Plaza (a branch of Macy's Kansas City) on September 12, 1968. Sears shut down their store in the mid-1970s. It's 4 levels re-opened, as the Seville Square mini-mall, in early 1977.

In September of the same year, tragedy struck. The adjacent Brush Creek overflowed its banks and inundated COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA with several feet of water. Five people drowned, basements flooded and several stores were destroyed, with damages totaling 58 million dollars.


The rebuilding effort resulted in a push to make THE PLAZA strictly an upscale shopping venue. Gucci opened a boutique in 1978, followed by Polo / Ralph Lauren, in 1982. Saks Fifth Avenue On The Plaza (assuming a shuttered F.W. Woolworth) was dedicated August 28, 1982. Laura Ashley opened its doors in 1983, followed by Bonwit Teller (in the old Harzfeld's space), in 1984. Most of the toney tenants did well. However, Bonwit Teller was shuttered in 1990. Saks persevered until its demise, in February 2005.

Meanwhile, Raleigh, North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties had acquired the retail hub in July 1998. By this time, THE PLAZA was the most exclusive shopping venue in either of the Kansas Cities. The complex, encompassing fourteen blocks, featured forty statues, twelve towers and one hundred and eighty stores and services. 

The Seville Square mini-mall proved to be an unsuccessful venture and was shuttered. Its upper section was gutted and rebuilt into a state-of-the-art multiplex, dubbed Palace At The Plaza. The 14-screen venue opened May 2, 1999. Plaza Theater, in business since 1928, had shut down in April. Its space became a Restoration Hardware in the fall of 1999.

Redevelopment and expansion of THE PLAZA continued into the new century. Valencia Place, a 10-story office tower with 80,000 square feet of retail, was completed in January 2000. This was followed by Granada Shops, a refit of the east side of the old Sears parking garage. This project, adding 20,000 square feet of selling space, was completed in 2002.

The latest modification of THE PLAZA entailed the circa-1965 Halls On The Plaza structure. The store closed for good August 3, 2014. The building was gutted and a new facade installed. Its 29,000 square foot first floor was divided into eight tenant spaces and a partial parking deck. The building was renamed Plaza 211, with its first tenants opening in 2016. 

In January of that year, THE PLAZA had changed hands. It was acquired by Country Club Plaza KC Partners, a joint venture of Michigan's Taubman Centers and California's Macerich Company. At the time of the transaction, the complex encompassed 804,000 square feet of retail and 468,000 square feet of office space.

Sources:

"J.C. Nichols & the Shaping of Kansas City: Innovation in Planned & Residential Communities" / William S. Worley
The State Historical Society of Missouri / J.C. Nichols Company Scapbook
preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.doc
www.cinematreasures.org
www.halls.com
http://www.kansascityhistory.org
www.buildings.com
www.countryclubplaza.com
www.bizjournals.com

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