28 December 2021

Country Club Plaza, Kansas City, MO

 A relic of retail

Country Club Plaza Mallmanac, ca. 2019.  View the full PDF version here.

This was the reason for my recent trip to KCMO.  Country Club Plaza is well known in retail circles as the first modern precursor to the American, automobile based suburban shopping center.  I had been wanting to walk its pavements for years and on a crisp February morning in 2020, I finally had the chance.  And I was not disappointed.

1- The Seville Light Fountain stands in from of the Mill Creek Building.  2- Zoe's.  3- A look down Ward Parkway along Brush Creek.  4- Storefronts along Ward.

I started my exploration just outside of Zoe’s at the corner of Baltimore and Ward. I walked along the Brush Creek side and was greeted by genuine early to mid-century architecture.  This was the real thing, and it really felt it.  It wasn’t like the faux classical design of so many lifestyle centers popping up today.  These structures were dressed in façades that were ornate but solid, and they showed their age in a dignified way.

1- Even the parking decks are nice.  2- Looking north up Central Street.  3- The statue of Pomona.  4- Broadway Boulevard.

Designed mainly in the Moorish Revival tradition, the ornamental style that was at its most popular in the mid-19th century, the entire complex is block after block of astounding beauty. Every crossing seemed to be occupied by a turret or steeple of some sort.  Each window was framed by Gothic and baroque elements.  It was extravagant and authentic; my jaw dropped as I turned every corner.  For what amounted to a gay twenties strip mall, I was in complete awe.

1- More shops along Ward.  2- The good luck/ mercy drop in front of Season's.  3- The Time Tower.

This is what places like Disney try to emulate, but Country Club Plaza gets its message across effortlessly.  What’s just across the way from a J Crew?  Why, it’s the handsome Palace Theater-slash-Urban Outfitters.  And where that old parking deck used to be?  Nordstrom is building a new store, moving its location within the metropolis from a sprawling super regional mall in suburbia to the inner neighborhoods around Loose Park.

1- The Plaza Time Building.  2- West 48th and Pennsylvania.  3- Looking north up Pennsylvania.  4- The Palace Theater.  To the left is the construction site for Nordstrom's new store.  5- The Palace Theater shares their space with Urban Outfitters.  6- Looking east down Nichols Road.

Country Club Plaza opened in 1923 offering retail firsts in a regional center such as enough parking allotted to accommodate the majority of patrons arriving via automobile, a single management office for the entire complex and carrying through a particular, unified architectural theme across all buildings.  It was a very well planned tribute the prevalent design elements of Seville, Spain. 

1- Nichols and Broadway.  2- Looking north up Broadway.  3- Looking south down Broadway.  4- Plaza Medical Building and tower.  5- Looking west down Nichols.  6- The Plaza Time Building from the northeast.

The development was named for the Country Club District of Kansas City, a suburban buildout four miles south of downtown.  The first building to open was on the corner of Mill Creek and 47th, now known as the Mill Creek Building.  It opened to immediate success, a success that has been consistent over the past century.  In fact, not only did it survive the Great Depression, it fared surprisingly well.

1- Storefronts on Nichols.  2- The Mermaid Pool.  3- Broadway and West 47th.

In its earlier days, Country Club Plaza was laid out with high-end shops doing business alongside mid-tier grocery stores and anchors such as Sears and Woolworth.  But as newer shopping malls began springing up in the late seventies and eighties, the center started skewing toward the more higher end retailers that we see now.

1- Nichols and Central.  2- Nichols and Broadway looking to the northwest.  3- Looking east down West 47th.  4- Crossing West 47th.  5- Looking west down West 47th.  6- The Bronze Boar.

Presently, the center remains the premier high end shopping destination for the entire metro area.  It consists of 18 separate buildings and over 900,000 square feet of space for retail, commercial and office uses.  While there are no large open plazas that are usually associated with the Moorish Revival style, the plaza does boast more than 30 pieces of artwork consisting of statues, mosaics and murals.  There are also handsome reproductions throughout, one of the most well known being the Giralda Tower at the corner of Baltimore and West 47th, a half size homage to the original in Seville. 

1- Clock tower.  2- Giralda Tower.  3- Seville Light.

I spent much more time at Country Club Plaza than I do most other malls that I visit.  Usually I’m there just to document them and go as most indoor, super-regionals follow pretty cookie cutter layouts and design strategies.  But I really wanted to absorb the atmosphere in which I was standing.  Reluctantly, I ended my visit in the shadow of the Giralda Tower before making my way back up north toward the Crown Center.

1- Clock Tower with the Giralda Tower in the background.  2- Fountain of Neptune.  3- The Seville Light and Clock Tower.  4- One final look at Country Club Plaza before I go.

Having walked through the New Landing Mall fewer than 24 hours previously, it was easy to see the stark difference between it and Country Club Plaza as a microcosm of Kansas City itself.  These places of extreme extravagance and tired obsolescence existed just a few miles apart, but both contributed to a place I found full of character and life.  I definitely see another trip to the KC area in the future.

Country Club Plaza Mallmanac, ca. 2020.  View the full PDF version here.

Country Club Plaza's Official Website

27 December 2021

New Landing Mall, Kansas City, MO

 A relic of retail

I’ve always had kind of an affinity for Kansas City.  I'd always wanted to visit the mid-continent metropolis and finally made it out that way in February 2020, mere weeks before a major pandemic would sweep the world.

1- The groovy sign at the corner of Troost and 63rd.  2- The west entrance with a view of the second level.  3- The outdoor entrances to the second level shops.  4- The mall's main entrance.

There were many things I wanted to see while in KCMO.  Downtown’s Power and Light district, the World War I Museum and Memorial and, of course, what is considered by many to be the first example of the modern American shopping center, Country Club Plaza.

1- The New Landing in brown tile. So perfect.  2- A look down the western corridor toward center court.  3- The entranceway on the west side.  4- Looking down the concourse.  5- A former Payless Shoesource.  6- The mall's comfy seating.

But while scouting the city on Google Maps, I came upon another destination.  One whose existence I had previously not known.  It’s obscurity, age and lack of updates piqued my interest and it was to become the first of my stops in Kansas City.  Located on the southern fringes of the city, I had discovered New Landing Mall.

1- A skylight "floods" the interior with natural light.  2- An empty plant box sits all alone.  3- The empty mallway on the east side.

The first thing that met my eyes was the giant blue sign just off the corner of Troost and East 63rd.  The logo looked like it belonged on an eighties Adidas sweat suit worn by someone about to start tearing apart a flattened cardboard box with their headspins and poppin’-and-lockin’.  And just beyond it was my destination.  A low slung, browner than brown straight shot of mid-century modernism.  I couldn’t wait to take it all in.

1- One of the dark entranceways.  2- More shops closer to center court.  3- Moooooo.  4- The mall comes alive the closer we get to center court.

Though tired and unassuming on the outside, the inside shared the same tired qualities but was also unabashedly bold seventies.  Thank goodness places like these never had the funds for one of those full-on renovations that tend to suck all of the character out of them.  This was a time capsule.  From “The New Landing” spelled out in tile that greeted me just beyond the western entrance to the aqua marine ceilings framing dusty box skylights, I was absorbing every pixel that my eyes touched.  These are the types of places in which I grew up and I miss the hell out of them.

Center court scenes.

There were a few well known retailers, such as Foot Locker, Rainbow Clothing and, uh…  Kids’ Foot Locker, but the main occupants were local mom and pops.  Traffic seemed pretty decent for a Saturday afternoon, though I’m sure that they weren’t nearly as large as the masses the monoliths in places like Overland Park attract.  Alas, it was very much alive and still seemed to be embraced by its few patrons.

1- Inside the main entranceway at center court.  2- Looking east from center court.  3- Every mall, no matter how dead, is required to have a foot locker.  4- Looking toward the east entrance.  5- A lonely side entrance.  6- Approaching the seating/ stage area in the east corridor.   

A walk down the western corridor brought me to center court and the entrance to its one anchor spot. Unfortunately, it lies vacant except for small sub-divisions hosting local businesses.  The center court’s high ceilings were a welcome reprieve from the claustrophobic low-slung ceilings of the corridors.  It was here where most of the people and businesses were gathered.

The lavender carpeted stage/ seating area in the east concourse.

The east corridor was much like its western counterpart though it also included a lavender carpet covered, angled sided stage and seating area.  The stage was empty, however, as well as most of the storefronts between it and the eastern entrance.  I exited further to that side and was greeted by a fantastic mural of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a rockin’-sixties-Flintstone inspired sign for the mall on a stone background.

1- The east concourse.  2- The east entranceway.  3- Gen X just outside the west entrance.  4- Going into the west entrance doors.  5- The Martin Luther King Jr. mural on the mall's east side.  6-  Outside the eastern section of the mall.

New landing Mall opened in 1960 as an open-air shopping center in the quickly growing southeastern suburbs of the city.  It was enclosed in 1970 and subsequently received its present-day name.  Its one anchor location opened as an R.H. Macy’s before being taken over by Dillard’s in 1988.  The building’s original Macy’s cornerstone is still visible in the second level parking area just off 63rd.

1- The east corridor.  2- The sign in its full glory.  3- I love this bedrock inspired nameplate.

Through the years, the diminutive center was supplanted by much larger neighbors such as the nearby Bannister Mall.  At over a million square feet, Bannister surely stole much business away from New Landing.  But the super-regional did not have the old incumbent’s staying power and succumbed to market forces of its own before closing in 2007.  The New Landing Mall has outlived its much larger replacement by quite a few years.

1- The Macy's cornerstone.  2- The Macy's entrance to its own second level car park.  3- The Macy's entrance on East 63rd.  4- Second level shop entrances just past the old Macy's.

A redevelopment has been proposed for the facility, though no concrete plans have been released.  The redevelopment was put on hold in 2019 and surely faces even more barriers now after the pandemic and ensuing economic slowdown.  But I’m glad that this anomaly gets to live on, even though it is definitely not much longer for this world.

New Landing Mall pamphlet ca. 2021.  View the full PDF version here.