In the early 1900s, real estate developer J. C. Nichols began the development of the Country Club District in Kansas City. The area, located south of Brush Creek, included upscale housing, manicured landscapes, and other planning features to complement the city’s parks and boulevards projects. In order to complete his vision of an exclusive district intended for the white middle and upper classes, Nichols turned his attention to the Country Club Plaza, the first planned suburban shopping center in the country. The original shops opened in 1923 at the end of Ward Parkway, a stately boulevard that connected Nichols’ neighborhoods to the emerging Plaza. Constructed in the Spanish Revival style, these architecturally unified stores were eventually complemented by wide tree-lined boulevards, fountains, and art installations. The local press called the district “Nichols’ folly,” but Nichols’ clever design and foresight proved them wrong as the Plaza gained unimaginable popularity.
This 1967 tour and store directory map of the Country Club Plaza created by the J.C. Nichols Company depicts notable Plaza buildings, shops, and amenities. The map’s emphasis on parking and roads reveals a defining feature of the Country Club Plaza as the shopping district was the first in the country designed to accommodate cars. Also sketched on the map are high end shops such as Hall’s, Harzfeld’s, and other department stores that catered to the more affluent classes.
Not everyone could enjoy all the Plaza had to offer. Racially restrictive covenants kept Black, Jewish, and other underrepresented groups from living in Nichols’ neighborhoods, and racial segregation prevented them from shopping on the Plaza. Today, the Country Club Plaza survives as a contested space where the racial dynamics that Nichols set in motion a century ago are still at play. At the same time, the Country Club Plaza’s unique shops and architecture continue to draw crowds from Kansas City, Missouri, and the nation.
Creator: H. Nelson
Subject: Shopping centers
Contributing Institution: Kansas City Public Library, Missouri Valley Special Collections
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Region: Kansas City Metro