Heading West Through Kansas City (Roadtrip Day 04)

I’ll come clean: I’m really embarrassed to admit that, prior to arriving this morning, I thought Kansas City was in Kansas, when in fact it’s in Missouri. Hence, my celebrations at finally reaching Kansas turned out to be a bit premature (thanks to commenters below, I’ve now learned that Kansas City actually exists in both Missouri and Kansas, with the river as the dividing line; I don’t remember any of this mentioned in my 3rd grade US geography class!).

We didn’t have much time to spend in KC, so we drove around the downtown, passing by what appeared to be a great old theater (the first of many we were to encounter as we headed west):

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An old warehouse – not especially notable…

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…except for this great, very simple sign:

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Old Westport seemed to be the destination in town that draws tourists, so we headed that way – passing this really interesting building at the corner of Westport and Main:

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Awesome clocktower:

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Across from it was an office building…

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…covered in very whimsical, ornate patterns. I especially love how rays of light from the lamps are integrated into the design:

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Another theater that is no more – the Warwick, which opened in 1912 and could seat 1,022 customers on two floors. It closed in 1953 and now appears to be vacant:

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After taking a few wrong turns, we finally found it: Historic Old Westport! Westport was originally settled in 1831 and incorporated in 1857, and thrived as a supply center for migrants taking the Oregon, California, Santa Fe, and Lewis & Clark trails.

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Westport was eventually annexed by Kansas City in 1897. Below, the oldest building in Kansas City is the Albert Boone store, once an outfitter for wagon trains during the 1800’s. Today, it’s a bar:

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However, as interesting as all this might be, I will forever remember Old Westport for one thing: the home of the one and only Burger Mobile:

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Though I’ve never seen another Burger Mobile to compare it to, I really can’t imagine a more perfect rendering:

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The Burger Mobile was clearly superior to our Hyundai Accent, and we were shamed to park behind it.

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A dusty marker identifying the Santa Fe trail outside the Westport Flea Market bar:

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I really hate malls, and the idea of making a detour to visit a mall on a roadtrip is akin to blasphemy…But we had to make an exception to see Country Club Plaza, the very first mall in the world. When we turned the corner and found ourselves on the streets of Seville, Spain, I have to admit that it was not what I was expecting.

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To be specific, Country Club Plaza is the very first shopping center in the world designed for customers arriving by car. When developer J. C. Nichols began buying land in a remote area for the purpose, he was ridiculed, and the project was referred to as Nichols’ Folly. Today, it covers 55 acres and is home to a number of upscale stores and restaurants.

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Best of all is the architecture, which could be described as Seville by way of Epcot. A Barnes and Noble:

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Below is Giralda tower, the tallest building in the shopping complex…

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…half the size of its original in Seville:

Catedral of Sevilla and the Giralda Tower(photo by Flickr user Rob Shenk)

Country Club Plaza features over 30 murals, tile mosaics, and fountains. Rather than rely on the typical sprawling mall parking lot, parking garages are hidden behind shops, or on top of roofs.

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Detail above a door – if only this style of mall had caught on:

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Another tower – note the weathervane, as well as tilework on the clock face:

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Moorish arches on a Sears:

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Tiles outside Starbucks:

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This was outside Starbucks as well. At first, I thought the boy was peeing on a frog. Then I realized the frog is spitting on the boy. I’m not sure which is weirder:

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One of many tile mosaics on the sides of shops:

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That was all the time we had for Kansas City, and we headed west to rejoin our route. Because US-50 mirrors Interstate-35, we decided to follow our guide’s advice and take US-56, ultimately rejoining with 50 in Kinsley, Kansas.

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We came to Baldwin City, home to Baker University (notable alumni: the founders of Panda Express). We detoured to drive through their small but charming main drag…

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This City Hall building is as classic as they come. I half-expected Jimmy Olson to run out with his latest scoop from the mayor’s office.

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Parmenter Hall – the first building built on Baker University’s campus, constructed of native sandstone.

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In between towns, we again found ourselves traveling past endless farmland. One in particular…

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A closer look:

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Looks like we’re finally in Kansas!

-SCOUT

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21 comments

  1. AAAGH! I’ve been waiting for this post!! Glad to see KCMO featured…you know there is a Kansas City, KS as well…you would have found a theater called The Granada there…google it! Waiting for this post, I could only imagine what I would find when the pics were up…wished you could have seen more of our wonderful city!

  2. Kansas City is both Missouri and Kansas. And Country Club Plaza is in Missouri while the Westport Flea Market is in Kansas. It’s like a twin city with the same name divided only by the river and given the nifty nicknames: KCMO and KCK. They are different though. KCK is like the poorer working class side of KCMO. Think of it as Queens to KCMO’s Manhattan. Or St. Paul to Minneapolis.

  3. “poorer working class side” really? I never felt that way growing up there. Interesting the way we perceive things.

  4. …strange that you likened it to Queens/Manhattan. KCK isn’t “a side” of KCMO. In relation maybe, but I can’t see the analogy.

  5. …Westport Flea Market is in KCMO.

  6. As already mentioned, Kansas City is both in Kansas and Missouri, so you were only half-wrong!

  7. Hi Nick. Nice to follw your road trip.

    When I saw the tower with “Fogo de chão” writen I was kind of suprised because that’s portuguese. It’s a weird expression that i never heard of and it translates “Fire from the floor”. I google it to try to find some meaning, but it turns out that is just a brasilian restaurant chain, and you probabilly already know that and the expression “fogo de chão” it’s a way of cooking the meat without being over the fire but next to it. It’s a popular in Argentina, Uruguai and in the south of Brazil. Pictures here: http://blogdochurrasco.com/2009/08/10/fogo-de-chao/

    If you pass by another of these restaurants (or any brasilian restaurant) i recomend the “picanha”.

  8. Hmmm. If you didn’t realize that the most famous Kansas City is in Missouri not Kansas, then I suspect that you didn’t realize that Kansas City MO is home to Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, christened nearly 4 decades ago (and almost continually since) by the renowned Calvin Trillin as “the best restaurant in the world.”

    http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Reviews/213/arthur-bryants

    I don’t even know what to say, Scout. It’s been my dream to go to Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City MO since I first read Calvin Trillin’s “American Fried” back in the mid-’70s. But I’ve never gone. It’s the great disappointment of my life. And here–you had the chance….? Tell me you went, Scout! Tell me! Let me live vicariously through you!!

  9. I never thought of Missouri or Kansas having anything to do with Spanish architecture, I figured it was all in Florida, or California and the SW (my stomping grounds). I am so glad that my assumption has been blown apart. I love the tiles and mosaics, and esp the top of that office building. I am glad to see they are still in use, and people can still see real craftmanship that you don’t see in todays buildings.

  10. Don’t feel bad about not knowing what state you were in. EVERY performer that comes to town does the old shout out, “I’m so glad to be in Kansas….” We don’t even boo anymore. Sir Paul McCartney got it wrong again just this last Saturday, (But since he’s been knighted and is from across the pond I guess we should cut him some slack)
    Oh, and that “Sears” with Moorish arches is actually one of the oldest department stores in town. It’s a very upscale place with only two locations unique to Kansas City, (Missouri). It’s named Hall’s and it is owned and operated by Hallmark Cards. Someone is spinning in their grave right now at it being referred to as a “Sears” !!!

  11. I’ll be headed out to Kansas City in a few weeks so thanks for the tips! I wasn’t planning on going to a mall but maybe I’ll reconsider…

    Just curious: is Westport Flea Market a flea market or a bar? Or both?

  12. It’s both!! They do trivia there some nights as well! And for the Arthur Bryants fan…There are soooo many BBQ places here–that couldn’t be the best. Gates,Jackstack,Oklahoma Joe’s…soooo many!

  13. Scout, love the trip dude. Like Karen says we are living vicariously thru your posts. Do you have any info on that gorgeous building on Westport? Coca Cola has a similar style bottling plant in Norfolk,VA. but not as elaborate.

  14. I second the statement about the “Sears”. The Hall family is a KC tradition; the Hall stores are definitely unique to KC. Too bad you didn’t check out “Crown Center”, an entire district built around the Hallmark headquarters, including the second Kansas City Hall’s department store.

  15. Beth: go read Calvin Trillin.

  16. Ahahahahaha! I scrolled and scrolled to see if you would have the frog spitting fountain, which is one of my favorite parts of the Plaza. And you did. Yay!

  17. I am really enjoying your trek! Thanks for letting me join.

  18. This is quite a bit late, but I have to say that you really missed out by skipping Lawrence, KS. It’s great that you were able to showcase all the slowly dying towns of Western Kansas, but give us Kansans a break! Show a place with culture and community!

  19. I have been reading and viewing your blog for hours. came across your roadtrip excited to see you came thru my town KCMO/KCKS. The building with the cool clock tower is an old drug store and they used to be all over town. Sadly it closed a few years ago but is being maintained and restored for some reuse in the future. As for the question of why Spanish Architecture in the middle of “nowhere”, KCMO is sister cities with Seville Spain. I did laugh about the Sears store and the following comments as there did used to be a Sears store on the Plaza. BTW we have tons of fountains in town second in number only to Rome (Italy not NY). Also surprised you didn’t notice that hidden gem of a building right next to the ABC warehouse, its a 3 story early glass curtain wall building with some beautiful details. Oh and u passed right by Gates BBQ I bet u smelt it.

  20. Good info and straight to the point. I don’t know if this is actually the best place to ask but do you guys have any ideea where to employ some professional writers? Thanks :)

  21. The river doesn’t divide MO from KS in Kansas City; State Line road does, from north of Westport south down out of town. Driving down State Line Road is interesting as the north bound lanes are in MO and the southbound lanes are in KS, with no median in-between. KCK and KCMO are both working class; it’s the ritzy neighborhoods on the Kansas side that are the “Manhattan” (Mission Hills, Overland Park, etc). The store with the clock is an old Katz drug store, a popular chain that went out of business many years ago. There are still several of these buildings around town. Another worthwhile drive is down Ward Parkway and the many 1910s-1920s era mansions and houses, a beautiful road, and the one ritzy neighborhood on the MO side. Union Station downtown is really neat too. I’ve driven US-56 from New Mexico to Kansas City many times. It’s a Route 66 that still works. As for BBQ, I always favored Rosedale BBQ in KCK, by the old stockyards, or Gates, which you drove right past on Main street.

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