The Country Club Plaza :

Kansas City 's Address for Style  

The Country Club Plaza graces Kansas City with charm and elegance. In 1922, Jessie Clyde Nichols developed the Plaza and he searched the world for suitable treasures to adorn it. Today, the Plaza has become one of Kansas City 's top attractions and remains a favorite among local residents.

Located just five miles south of downtown Kansas City , the Plaza covers 55 acres and is constructed in elaborate Spanish-style architecture with red-tiled roofs, elegant towers and ornate ironwork. Much of the Plaza's beauty can be attributed to its sparkling fountains, horse-drawn carriages and outdoor art treasures from Europe, Asia and Mexico . With more than 40 fountains, many unique to the world, and more than 50 sculpted works of art, the Plaza is often referred to as an "outdoor museum."   A walking art tour of these magnificent works is a delightful way to experience the Plaza. It features a waterway, Brush Creek, with lighted walking paths.      

The Plaza is served by a variety of hotels including The Fairmont Kansas City at the Plaza, The Hampton Inn & Suites, The Raphael Hotel, Sheraton Suites, Holiday Inn at the Plaza, Marriott Country Club Plaza, Embassy Suites Country Club Plaza and Best Western Seville Plaza , plus Southmoreland on the Plaza and Lafontaine Inn Bed & Breakfast. A mix of more than 180 retail and service establishments includes restaurants, nightclubs, movie theaters, shops and boutiques. The Plaza has become a major fashion center in the Midwest . Exclusive stores such as Tiffany, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Mark Shale and Laura Ashley, along with locally founded Halls, have made shopping on the Plaza rivaled only by the area's beautiful surroundings.    

Plaza Special Events…

Highlighting a calendar of special events is the Country Club Plaza's holiday lighting ceremony, a tradition since 1926.   Each Thanksgiving night, hundreds of thousands of eager spectators visit the Plaza to watch the 14-block district light up with colorful lights. More than 200,000 bulbs outline 75 miles of rooftops, archways, towers and corners on the Country Club Plaza. Crisp nights are filled with bells and carolers, horse-drawn carriages through the streets and excitement of holiday shopping and fun. Visitors from around the country come to Kansas City to view the lights, which are lighted nightly through mid-January.

Each September, some of the finest artists from throughout the United States converge on the Plaza to display their works of art at the annual Plaza Art Fair. Started more than 70 years ago, this three-day nationally juried event displays works from more than 190 selected artists. Thousands of art lovers flock to the Plaza Art Fair each year, which also features live entertainment and varied cuisines. With the first bloom of spring and the celebration of Easter, the Plaza is decorated with brightly dressed six-foot tall sculptured Easter bunnies with lighted eyes.  

Summer on the Plaza is a time for sampling savory delights in a patio or courtyard cafe, listening to an outdoor concert, taking in the sites in a horse-drawn carriage, relaxing by a splashing fountain or just wandering the tree-lined streets brightened by vivid banners flapping in the summer breeze.

Plaza Business…

A Plaza address has a style of its own. Numerous office buildings housing businesses ranging from stockbrokers to doctors can be found throughout the Plaza area.   On the southern edge of the Plaza is the Kansas City Board of Trade, a 12-story office building that houses one of the nation's leading grain exchanges. Dozens of condominium and apartment units provide a sophisticated living environment within steps of the Plaza's sights and sounds.  

Crown Center  

Crown Center , a mixed-use redevelopment project at the southern edge of downtown Kansas City , is a perfect example of a total entertainment, living and working environment. The privately financed urban community is a development of Hallmark Cards, Inc., located on 85 acres adjacent to the international headquarters of the Kansas City-based greeting cards firm. Crown Center has been a catalyst for change in the city's urban core, replacing blight with quality working, living and entertainment facilities.

This ambitious project reflects the vision of the late Joyce C. Hall, Hallmark Cards' founder and his son Donald J. Hall, the firm's current chairman. Their goal of revitalizing the inner city began in the early 1960s. Instead of following the stream of businesses leaving the city for the suburbs, they made the city environment better by creating an in-town suburb so desirable that people have turned their attention back to the city for work and for play.

At Crown Center , there are plenty of business, entertainment and living facilities. The center houses office complexes, the 725-room Westin Crown Center Hotel, the 731-room Hyatt Regency Crown Center Hotel, a tri-level retail complex, 20 restaurants, a children's art workshop, a six-screen cinema, ice skating in the winter, three live professional theaters, the Hallmark Visitors Center, a six-acre apartment and condominium community, and parking for more than 5,000 cars.

The Link, an elevated 880-foot long elevated pedestrian walkway, offers enclosed, climate-controlled access between the Hyatt Regency Crown Center Hotel and the Westin Crown Center Hotel, as well as the Crown Center Shops and office buildings in the complex. An additional elevated pedestrian walkway links the Westin with the newly remodeled Union Station.

A Center for Business...

The two hotels highlight Crown Center 's reputation as a destination for conventions and tourists.   The Westin Crown Center is an L-shaped building with a multi-level lobby wing set into a natural limestone hillside, and a guest tower rising 15 stories atop the hill. The lobby interior features a garden carved from the hill's limestone, with tropical foliage, trees and a spectacular 60-foot waterfall. The hotel contains two restaurants and offers an indoor health club and recreational facility, swimming pool and a jogging track.

The Hyatt Regency Crown Center , on the northeastern edge of the development, features a 42-story guest tower, a 60-foot high lobby, a three-level building for meeting and recreational facilities, swimming pool, two lounges and three restaurants. The 54,000-square-foot Destination Crown Center Exhibit Hall opened in January 2000. The facility is convenient for meeting planners holding events in the Crown Center hotels.

Crown Center 's office environment, with nearly two million square feet of office space, offers a prestigious address, convenient location and exceptional amenities. The interconnected office buildings overlook the central square and are linked to the entertainment and hotel facilities of Crown Center .  

Retail Area...

The Crown Center Shops are three levels filled with boutiques, specialty shops, restaurants, movie theatres and free covered parking. The largest of the retail outlets is Halls Crown Center , a 100,000-square foot specialty department store. Perched above Halls is the award winning American Restaurant, presenting gourmet dishes evolving from our nation's heritage.  

Crayola Store and Café offer a unique learning and entertaining environment for kids. Crayola Café is a family oriented, casual dining concept, featuring such family favorites as grilled sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Kids, young and old, can learn how to make those world famous crayons.  

Entertainment...

Much of Crown Center 's entertainment takes place on the square, where trees, fountains and terraces offer a setting for fairs and festivals. The Hospital Hill Run, one of the region's premiere half-marathon races, is held each June.   In the winter, the Ice Terrace is open for public skating. During the holiday season, the Mayor's Christmas tree, one of the tallest in the nation, towers more than 95 feet above the square. The annual tree lighting ceremony, held the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, kicks off a city-wide drive to raise money for residents in need during the holidays.  

For children, one of the highlights of Crown Center is Kaleidoscope, a unique creative art workshop for ages five to 12. More than 60,000 children have visited Kaleidoscope each year since its opening in 1975. Sponsored by Hallmark Cards, nearly all materials used in the program are recycled items from the Hallmark manufacturing processes that are reshaped into the children's creative arts projects.  

People of all ages can see how the greeting card giant makes its cards when they visit the Hallmark Visitors Center . The free tour features 14 exhibits, a historical timeline depicting the history of greeting cards, interactive displays, craftsmen at work and a movie about Hallmark.

The arts are alive at Crown Center as well. The Coterie Theatre offers live performances for the entire family, while the American Heartland Theatre performs plays and musicals year round. A movie theater with six screens is also located within the complex and the main stage on the first floor is host to local entertainment throughout the year.  

Westport

An Exciting Gathering Place—Both Past and Present  

 An important part of Kansas City 's origins lies in the historic area of Westport . Located on the western edge of Kansas City , Missouri , Westport is still a bustling business area, just as it was more than 150 years ago.

In 1833, twelve years after Missouri became a state, John Calvin McCoy built a log cabin trading post on the northeast corner of modern-day Westport Road and Pennsylvania . While this was initially a real estate investment for McCoy, it soon became a stopping place for fur traders, mountain men, Indians, area farmers and the wagon trains venturing West. McCoy began laying out the streets of his new village, and Westport became a bustling trade town with immigrants, freight wagons and businessmen like Albert Gallatin Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone. McCoy eventually built a landing area on the Missouri River where the boats could unload supplies and settlers closer to the trails instead of Independence , Missouri- a two day ride from Westport . Soon after, Westport became the jumping-off point for the Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails, eclipsing the role of Independence.      

In the 1860s, the Civil War brought a new level of activity to Westport . With the free state of Kansas just one mile to the west, Westport frequently found itself caught between the northern abolitionists and the southern sympathizers of Missouri .   Before the issues of the war were finally laid to rest, the Battle of Westport, referred to as the Gettysburg of the West, was fought and ended the Civil War in the West.  

Eventually, the landing area McCoy built on the river became so popular that unfortunately, Westport 's role faded. This river community to the north, originally called the Town of Kansas and later Kansas City , was rapidly growing closer, and finally in 1899, Westport was absorbed by the new city . Westport , however, had already made its mark on Western history.  

Today, Westport is as lively as it was during the days of the pioneers. Its nineteenth century charm has been kept intact with historic buildings, old-style lampposts and tree-lined boulevards. The area features restored shops, art galleries, restaurants and many popular spots that highlight Kansas City nightlife.

After dark, Westport nightlife comes alive with unique restaurants and exciting clubs featuring live music and comedy. Westport is a social gathering place for many events including an annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. Westport becomes the scene of the city's biggest block party as partygoers from all around gather to celebrate. Each fall the streets are filled with artists, participants in the annual Westport Art Fair.  

Westport remembers its early role in history at attractions found throughout the district. The Harris-Kearney House, built in 1855 by an early Westport resident, is open to the public. This is one of only a few antebellum buildings in Kansas City . Pioneer Park , at the corner of Westport Road and Broadway, features an in-ground map of the United States during the time of westward expansion complete with pioneer and explorer routes marked so history buffs can trace the early trails. A statue of Westport 's earliest contributors is found in the park. One of Kansas City 's most beloved watering holes is found in the heart of Westport . Ask any resident and they'll tell you about Kelly's Westport Inn, housed in Kansas City 's oldest building, which was once a store operated by Albert Gallatin Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone. Even today, Westport retains the same charm that attracted western-bound travelers years ago. It continues to feature excitement and adventure for people of all ages.    

Independence , Missouri

Where the Trails Start and the Buck Stops  

A trip to Independence , Missouri is a trip back in time. Nicknamed the " Queen City of the Trails" for the wagon trains that once headed westward from the town, Independence has played an important role in the history of America . More than a dozen different sites and attractions are located within 15 square blocks of historic Independence Square.

Most people associate Independence as the home of Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States . There are several sites of interest that revolve around this famous man and his family. The Truman Presidential Museum & Library, built in 1957, houses nearly 10 million papers, books and historical materials relating to Truman’s life and administration. It is one of eleven presidential libraries in the United States . A popular feature of the museum is a mural entitled, “ Independence and the Opening of the West,” which was painted by Kansas City 's own Thomas Hart Benton. Until his death, President Truman maintained an office at the building. Both he and his wife Bess are laid to rest in the library courtyard.

The Truman Presidential Museum & Library completed a $22.5 million renovation in 2004. The new exhibits, including extensive audio-visual components and interactive decision theaters, have been added to the museum’s longtime exhibits to broaden the scope and vision of the facility.  

Other Truman tributes in Independence include his former home and the Harry S Truman Office and Courtroom in the Courthouse on Independence Square where he began his political career. The Truman home, formerly known as the "Summer White House," is one mile from the Truman Presidential Museum & Library. Harry and Bess lived in the home from the time of their marriage until their deaths. The 14-room Victorian mansion was built by Bess Wallace Truman's grandfather in 1862 and is now restored to its original appearance. Personal belongings of the family are on display.  

Across the street from the Courthouse is the 1859 Marshal's House and Jail Museum , with its dungeon-like cells that held many famous 19th century prisoners, including the legendary Frank James. Both the museum and home have been restored to look as they did in the 1800s and boast a superb historical collection. There is also an old schoolhouse on the grounds of the jail.

During America 's expansion from the 1820s -1855, three great routes led the pioneers West—the Oregon , California and Santa Fe Trails. All three began in or near Independence , Missouri . The National Frontier Trails Center located in Independence is the nation's foremost museum and research center on the West's settlement and exploration. An archives, interpretive exhibits and film are dedicated to telling the history of the trails in America.  

Independence is home to two historically significant mansions, the Bingham-Waggoner Estate and the Vaile Mansion . The Bingham-Waggoner Estate was built in 1855 along the Santa Fe Trail .   Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham and his wife lived in the home from 1864-1870. The mansion has 22 rooms and lies on 19 acres. In 1879, the Waggoners, a family of flour mill magnates, acquired the home. Eventually the home was restored, and today it features gas chandeliers, oriental rugs and beautiful Victorian and Edwardian furniture.

The Vaile Mansion has 31 rooms and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Second Empire style Victorian architecture in the country. The home was originally built in 1881 for Harvey Yale, local entrepreneur and United States mail contractor. The estate at one time had its own water supply, ornamental ponds, gazebos, a private wine cellar and many greenhouses. Local supporters have restored the home with period pieces, ceiling murals and a lavish interior.

Independence is also home to a chapter in religious history that shaped America . In 1831, Joseph Smith designated Independence as the new site for the city of Zion . Today, his descendents head the Community of Christ with nearly 250,000 members worldwide from their Independence headquarters.   Organ recitals are given daily throughout the summer on the magnificent pipe organ located in the Auditorium.

Historic displays of the Mormons (LDS) and their early, tempestuous history in Independence from 1831-1839 can be seen at the Mormon Visitors Center . Remarkable photographs of ancient American ruins, rare artifacts, exhibits and artwork are on display at the center. Of special note is a 2½ ton carrara marble mural.      

Independence is only a quick 20 minute drive from downtown Kansas City , but it's a step back into 150 years of American history that makes it one of Missouri 's most historic cities.