Plaza

The Country Club Plaza was named for the associated Country Club District, the neighborhood developed by J.C. Nichols which surrounded the Kansas City Country Club (now Loose Park). It is situated at the northern terminus of Ward Parkway, a boulevard known for its wide, manicured median lined with fountains and statuary that traverses the Country Club District. Nichols selected the location carefully to provide residents with a direct route to the Plaza along Ward Parkway.

Nichols began acquiring the land for the Plaza in 1907, in an area of Kansas City that was then known as Brush Creek Valley. When his plans were first announced, the project was dubbed ‘Nichols’ Folly’ because of the then seemingly undesirable location; at the time, the only developed land in the valley belonged to the Country Day School (now the Pembroke Hill School), and the rest was known for pig farming.

Nichols employed architect Edward Buehler Delk to design the new shopping district. The Plaza opened in 1923 to immediate success, and has lasted with little interruption since that year. New Urbanist land developer Andres Duany noted in Community Builder: The Life & Legacy of J.C. Nichols that the Country Club Plaza has had the longest life of any planned shopping center in the history of the world. One of its oldest retailers is the Jack Henry Clothing company, founded in 1931.

For its first four decades, the Plaza combined some higher-end shops, such as Harzfeld’s, with a mix of more mid-level retailers such as Sears and Woolworth’s, as well such quotidian enterprises as a bowling alley, movie theater, and a grocery store to serve the daily needs of residents of the district. From around 1970, competition from newer suburban shopping malls led management to reposition the Plaza with luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, higher-end restaurants, and upscale retailers includingGucci, Polo Ralph Lauren, FAO Schwarz, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bally, and Swanson’s. On September 12, 1977, a major flood of Brush Creek caused severe damage to the Plaza and resulted in a number of deaths.[4] The flood prompted a vast renovation and revitalization of the area that has allowed it not only to survive but to thrive.

In 1998, the J.C. Nichols Company merged with Raleigh, North Carolina-based real-estate investment trust Highwoods Properties, who now runs the Country Club Plaza.

On February 19, 2013, a large explosion destroyed JJ’s Restaurant on the Plaza. Believed to be caused by a gas leak, the blast left at least one person dead and sixteen injured. According to a statement from Missouri Gas Energy, a contractor doing underground work struck a gas line. Witnesses had reported a strong odor of natural gas in the area most of the afternoon. The initial explosion happened shortly after 6 p.m. and led to a four-alarm fire that caused the restaurant’s complete destruction as well as damage to surrounding buildings.JJ’s returned in November 2014 to a new location, still in the Country Club Plaza area.