Who knew Kansas City was a hot bed of art and architecture? Sometimes strange things just happen.
First I get a website comment from an Everyday Tourist reader saying, “you have to go to Kansas City!” The next day, while having dinner with Saskatoon friends at the boisterous Cannibale Barbershop + Cocktails, they tell us Kansas City (KC) is a hidden gem and one of their favourite cities (both have travelled the world and love cities). Then a few days later, I pick up Walter Cronkite’s autobiography from my pile of thrift store book finds and he begins by singing the praises of Kansas City where he grew up. Somebody is telling me something!
I thought it might be fun to blog about a city I have never actually visited using comments and photos from three fellow everyday tourists and the Internet.
In the words of Wilbert Harrison who wrote the song Kansas City - “I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.” Interestingly, the lyrics talk about taking the train, plane or even walking there but not about driving to KC.
Here we go…
Country Club Plaza
“I have just returned from Kansas City, Missouri. Its downtown shopping area, called "Country Club Plaza," is a redevelopment that started in 1923. It is several blocks wide and long and it is like Britannia Plaza (he had just read my blog about Calgary’s Britannia’s 21st century transformation) on steroids. The angle parking, the Boulevard, the wide sidewalks all appeal to shoppers. Our Inglewood and Kensington areas could certainly benefit from these design elements,” so GB comments on Everyday Tourist website.
I immediately thought, “What a strange name for a downtown plaza - sounds like a golf course development.” Turns out it is a 15-block area that some call the “Rodeo Drive of the Midwest” with its Seville, Spain-inspired architecture, statues and fountains. Who knew?
I love the story on the Internet about how a single stand of Christmas lights over a store entrance in 1925 has become a 15-block holiday spectacular called Plaza of Lights. That is surely something Calgary’s downtown could use. Imagine lighting all of the buildings, +15 bridges from Eau Claire up Barclay Mall to Stephen Avenue then over to Olympic Plaza and finally River Walk in East Village. Or what about lighting up the silhouettes of all the historical buildings along Inglewood’s Main Street. Maybe someday?
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Both GB and my Saskatoon scouts tell me I have to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art when in KC. Yikes, I have never heard of this place and I spent 20 years as an artist, curator and Executive Director of a public art gallery.
Their photos immediately reminded me of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Museum which we visited earlier this year. The story is that in 1915, William Rockhill Nelson, founder of The Kansas City Star, left his estate to a trust to purchase artwork for the public. At the same time, schoolteacher Mary McAfee Atkins, relatively unknown in the community, left one-third of her million-dollar estate to purchase land for a public art museum. The two estates were combined and in 1933 the art museum opened it doors. Gotta love those American philanthropists.
Today, the museum has over 35,000 works of art and welcomes over 500,000 visitors a year. The playful “shuttlecocks” that sit on the vast lawn in front of the museum by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, make for a fun entrance.
Wouldn’t the Glenbow love that kind of attendance (currently they have about 125,000 per year)? Perhaps is has something to do with the free admission?
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
KC… was a hot bed of art? The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (KMCA) designed by Gunnar Birkets is s sleek, angular building in the vein of Calgary’s TELUS Spark. KMCA holds an amazing collection of Chihuly, Warhol and O’Keefe to name a few renowned artists. Free parking and admission make it very public-friendly.
Calgary missed a big opportunity to create a museum of contemporary art when the Nickle Museum opened in 1979 at the University of Calgary. Today it is seems all but forgotten having been integrated into the Taylor Family Digital Library a few years ago.
Kansas City – a great city for architecture? Here are some samples from the Internet – you decide.
The Kauffman Performing Arts Centre by Canada’s iconic architect Moshie Safdie.
Power & Light District
Between 2005 and 2008 a new downtown entertainment district was created around the art deco Kansas City Power & Light Building. Today, it includes the multi-use Sprint Centre Arena (home to no professional sports teams), a covered outdoor plaza, Almo Drafthouse Mainstreet Theatre (cinemas), Midland Theatre (3,500 capacity music hall) and numerous bars, restaurant and offices including H&R Block world headquarters.
Maybe this is something the Calgary Flames might want to look at for West Village i.e. drop the stadium and field house and focus on the arena, entertainment activities with perhaps a hotel and numerous condos.
Better yet, could the Calgary Stampede and Flames collaborate to create something like this at Stampede Park?
Crossroads Arts District is delirious….
Our Saskatoon friends sing the praises of the Crossroads, a historic district south of downtown, which is animated by dozens of art galleries, housed in repurposed warehouses and industrial buildings. It is also home to several restaurants, cafes, housewares shops, designers’ shops and live music venues.
HOK, a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm has their headquarters there. (They are the architects for Edmonton’s’ new Rogers Place arena). Speaking of Edmonton, KC is also home to A. Zahner Company, an innovative architectural metal & glass company that was responsible for the Art Gallery of Alberta. Their website’s portfolio page is like eye candy for designers. Who knew (not me, anyway) that the massive ribbon of stainless steel that wraps around and through the AGA represents the northern lights and is officially called “The Borealis.” Furthermore, the form of the roof’s canopy that then drops to the ground serves as a “snow cone” collecting snow and ice. Where do they get these ideas?
“Delirious” was how those two Saskatoonites described themselves after flaneuring the Crossroads.
Link: Zahner Portfolio
City of Fountains
Beginning in the late 1800s, Kansas City started erecting fountains to serve dogs, horses and birds. Then in 1910 the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, built in Paris, was near the iconic Country Club Plaza. The larger-than-life equestrian figures represent four rivers: the Mississippi, Seine, Rhine and, Volga (Europe's longest river).
Then came the Meyer Circle Sea Horse Fountain, purchased in Venice, Italy in the early 1920's and named for the three mythological sea horses perched atop the stone pyramid.
Still later, the Northland Fountain, flowing year-round, features an 80-foot circular base and center geyser that can propel water 35 feet high. This fountain is especially popular because the frigid winter temps transform it into a spectacular ice sculpture highlighted by a wide array of frozen shapes. This I gotta see!
Every year, on the second Tuesday in April, the city celebrates Greater Kansas City Fountain Day, when all 48 publicly operated fountains spring back to life. I have always loved the idea of fountains in urban spaces.
It always amazes me how much second and third tier cities in North America have to offer. It is not all about New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver or Toronto.
Did you know that KC has the second most boulevard streets in the world after Paris and is nicknamed “Paris of the Plains?” Kansas City wasn’t on our list of cities to visit, but it is now. Kansas City, here we come!
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