Most people probably don’t associate Missouri, let alone Kansas City, with Spanish architecture. But one of the city’s most iconic landmarks looks to mimic just that.
Built by local real estate developer JC Nichols, Country Club Plaza opened during the height of the Roaring Twenties with a distinct theme: Seville, Spain.
Named for the surrounding Country Club neighborhood, most know it simply as The Plaza, and the buildings have remained almost unchanged since opening in 1923. In addition to the architecture, there are more than 30 statues, murals, and tile mosaics that add to the Spanish flavor, and the blocks are anchored by several major architectural reproductions like the Cathedral of Seville, and even San Francisco’s Path of Gold Streetlights.
The Plaza was the first shopping center in the world designed specifically to accommodate the auto-centric shopper. By including a number of semi-concealed parking garages, several gas stations and, eventually, even drive-thru banking, motorists could be shoppers, and vice versa. Everything you needed was one short drive away. There was a grocery, a drug store, even a bowling alley. And the developers made sure to include both mid-level retailers like Sears and Woolworth along with more high-end shops.
Country Club Plaza was an immediate hit.
In 1930, almost by accident, the Plaza hit on what’s become one of Kansas City’s longest standing traditions. The “Season of Lights” begins on Thanksgiving Night with a two-hour televised lighting ceremony, and every night through mid-January the entire 55-acres shines bright, drawing tourists from all over the world. As impressive as the light show is, in the 1950s and 60s it was even more elaborate, with the massive street-level store windows displaying an enormous collection of Christmas-themed animatronics.
Curiously, with everything JC Nichols thought of, unlike most plazas in Spain, this one has no central plaza.