Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One building in the Plaza trumps a city full of historical buildings.

Everybody get in line. No pushing, shoving, or having your doofus friend hold your spot while you make a Latte run. There will be plenty of time for all of you to tell me how fucked up and uninformed I am, so wait your turn. At least half of you are going to think I'm so far off on this one I must be high on Hippy Lettuce, and I may be, but believe me when I say I'm right. I am. And I promise if you chew on this one for a minute or two, you will  come around to my way of thinking. So, what say we get to it.

The uproar over the proposed office building on a Plaza corner has more peoples shorts in a wad than that time TKC compared the Waldo Rapist composite to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The local news outlets have been as excited over this thing as Liberace discovering a dick tree.  Everyone has an opinion on why it would be sacrilegious to build a modern glass structure smack in the middle-ish of Spanish Architecture. I was listening to 3 or 4 clowns on Steve Kraskes show  going on and on about how The Country Club Plaza IS Kansas City. How our history as a city is entwined with a shopping district that few of us ever actually shop at. How important the Plaza is as an entertainment destination, even though most Kansas Citians don't really dine there, or drink there. Oh sure, you might take your significant udder out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory or Plaza 3 once a year. And we all like to go look at the lights around Christmas, Hanuka, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, whatever , pick your poison. And yes the streets are often crowded with posers and drunk women hoping to catch the eye of some sports figure, or spittle if it's Larry Johnson. But the Plaza isn't Kansas City, it's just a small sliver of stores most of us can't afford to buy a pair of socks at. It's like the really hot chick in high school, nice to look at, but not of much use on a day to day basis. She might bat her eyes at you, she might give you a glimpse of cleavage, but at the end of the day, she is going to go with the biggest over privileged douche bag in the school.

Anyone with an interweb connection has chimed in on what a disgrace it is  for someone to suggest  building something on property they own. They being Highwoods.  So I wasn't going to bother with throwing in my 2 nickles. However, by the end of Kraskes show, after every single caller went on and on ad nauseum over how horrible it is to even suggest tearing down  one of the old Plaza  buildings, I'd heard enough. Like a mighty trout rising to take the fly, No Seacrest, I couldn't resist the bait, the pointing out of what is either glaring hypocrisy, total ignorance, or a sense of entitlement. I'm going to go with all 3.  Here's the rub, I don't really care if they put up the building or not. I would even say I agree that the Plaza should stay  looking like it does now. I agree it is a historical part of the city. No problem with the Plaza per say.  I just have one question.

Where was all of the outrage, the face book pages, the radio, news and print soup stirring, before the Plaza conflict? The same people who are so incensed over the thought of a modern building amidst the Spanish Stucco themed Plaza, were as quiet as a group of  Deaf Mutes over the Sprint Center and the P&L district. Or they cheered it on, called it progress. Someone please explain to me how a giant mirror disco ball building lives in peace and harmony, all feng shui and shit, among a downtown that is dominated by Art Deco buildings. Where is all of the outrage over a Jazz District that is nothing more than crumbling facades with a couple of money pits thrown in for good measure.
Historic homes, buildings, places with more history in their bricks and mortar than 10 Plaza's, have been crumbling, dying a slow death in this city for decades. I've given more time and space on this blog to Urban Blight and the death of this city's history than all of the local media combined.  Let that sink in. Give it a minute. You're almost with me, despite yourself. 

In one of the greatest movies ever made, Cool Hand Luke, there is a particular scene, it's really the biggest scene in the movie. Luke gets brought back from another escape. They throw him  in the bunk house, beat up, broke down, tore up from the floor up. Some of the cons crowd around him, all carrying on about a picture he sent them while he was on the run. He is flanked by two flashy looking women in the photo. All smiles, all Cool.  He tells the cons the pic was a fake, he paid to have it taken. Tells them to stop feeding off of him, get their own lives. He tries to make it to his bunk, but he falls and can't get up. He sticks his hand out, looking for a hand up, and they all turn their backs on him. "Where are you now?"  is his money line.
See, it's like this, when Luke was all flash they loved him. Couldn't get enough of him. Then he falls, he is all dirty, beat up, not a trace of flash. They turn their backs, to a man, every last one of them. This city, the majority of it's people, they turn their backs on the dirty old bricks and mortar buildings. The old homes where lives were lived, the backbone of this city, it's reason for existing in the first place. It's just not pretty, no flash, just blood, sweat and tears. In the minds and eyes of most, the real history of this city can't hold up to the stucco , the fashion, and the fountains. 

I know what some of you are thinking, "Why not both? Can't all historical areas of the city be important? Does caring about the Plaza mean we can't care about other parts of the city?"

Good point, and I've no doubt that many of you probably do care. Sadly there are only a few hundred of you lonely rubes who regularly take time out to read this shit. The majority of the people who are raising a stink over the Plaza, the ones getting air and face time from the media, they could give a shit if some old building gets demolished downtown. They could really not care less about some stately old home on the Paseo, or some craftsman bungalow in Midtown. The majority of the people in this city have never ventured  beyond the commercial districts, the Plaza, the Power and Light district, maybe the City Market area.  So when I see the outrage, and I hear all the sanctimonious horseshit about "Saving the Plaza" from the greedy corporate types, it pisses me off.  When I get pissed off these days, I write. There was a time when if I got pissed off, I'd get in a fight. At 51 carpal tunnel is more appealing than swollen hands and the likelihood of getting my ass handed to me. So write it is.  Over the next couple of weeks, starting  Wednesday, I'll be giving you rubes a history lesson, with pictures and everything, Double M style. It's time for another Urban Blight tour with hopefully a little history thrown in.  Maybe some of the French Poodle crowd will stumble across this humble lil blog and it's humble lil writer. And maybe, just maybe, they will find out that there is more to this city than a half dozen blocks of pretentious stores and overpriced restaurants.  The Plaza doesn't define Kansas City. There are far more important parts of this city  decaying, slowly dying, and it's bigger and more important than one building, in a place most Kansas Citians rarely visit.
 Where's the outrage?
Where are you now?


  1. Good for you MM! Where was the outrage when, in the early 80's, they got rid of a perfectly wonderful dime store and grocery store to give KC Saks' Fifth Ave. and Brook Bros. (FYI-Sak's departed sans hurrah and BB has morphed, too.) Where was the outrage when Bruce Smith Drugs had to take a hike for Armani Exchange....and does anyone remember the old Plaza Movie theater-now Restoration Hardware--old items made new, mostly in China, so we can all re-live our memories.

    I used to live on the Plaza when a single person on low wages actually could and the Plaza was a self contained community, i.e., bank, grocery, post office, drug store, dry cleaners, etc. It has changed many times since then so throwing out the residents of the Neptune Apts. will just be a formality...

  2. Well said, MM!

    What I don't understand is why they can't - instead of tearing down and building a brand new building (where ever they decide to do it) - take over one of the many half-empty, barely-used buildings that already exist downtown? I used to work in one of the biggest ones in the heart of downtown KCMO and it always amazed me how nearly 3/4 of the thing was abandoned. I mean, the company that I worked for - which consisted of less than ten people - had an entire floor to ourselves. We were surrounded by huge, empty offices.

    Can't they take an office building that already exists in Kansas City, take the giant pile of money that it would take to build someplace new and spruce up the old place to meet their standards? That way, you're not tearing down parts of "classic" Kansas City, you're not wasting time and money and you're putting something - that's already here and largely ignored - to good use.

  3. Outrage only requires a click on FB or a call to a radio show. No effort required.

  4. Maniak ProductionsTuesday, August 24, 2010

    I like the old throwback parts of town too. We lived at 3423 Central until 1968, at wich time we moved to a small town called Blue Springs. My brother, who is your age, always tells of the days he owned every alley in midtown. From fighting the Puerto Ricans at Westport HS, to fishing at Penn Valley park.
    My first taste of the big city came in the 70's, when I would spend summers with my aunt in Northeast. What fun! All those grand old homes on Gladstone blvd, Corinthian Hall, Cliff Drive, all that Pendergast Reddi-Mix concrete, all still there today, but ignored by the folks you speak of. So many stories and so much history, silently spins its yearn as I drive through the neighborhood I used to own. Yep, the old Northeast was once mine.

    Looking forward to your next urban blight segment, and as always, thanks for sharing your perspective.

    ps-damn glaucoma.

  5. Frankly, MM, with the right incentive you could get those same people's panties in a wad over a bit of used toilet paper in an alleyway. There are hordes of them standing by waiting to vent their outrage over anything that smacks of media whoredom. All ya gotta do is pick a topic, poke the multitudes with the right stick and find the right media outlet and you'll have a full fledged lynch mob on your hands.

  6. You're so right. It's a town of lost (or neglected, or unappreciated) treasures.

  7. SO GLAD you are gonna do another Urban Blight, and that I asked you about it the other day.
    Its not just that they're funny(they are) and sad(that too), but they give a sense of what WAS.

    You write better when you're pissed off.


  8. The company I worked for was a German company in JoCo but our German visitors never stayed in JoCo. They stayed on the Plaza because they liked the character of the Plaza, the restaurants, the hotels, the celebrations. They spent big bucks on the Plaza. My family is all from out of town and I've taken them all to the Plaza. We've had lunch there and then we went to the Nelson or something like that. I see it as a tourist destination, one of the few that Kansas City has. If it changes too much over time, it won't continue to be a tourist destination. The rest of the city has plenty of good restaurants and shopping.

    If it was my home, I know I'd really be digging my heels in against change. That's just me.

    But, nothing stays the same forever. Sometimes good, sometimes not.

  9. Hasn't anyone noticed that in the last month, Kansas (and particularly the Sprint Campus), has stolen about 1,000 jobs from Kansas City. Then we have a law firm, with Kansas offers, wanting to build at their own cost a building on the Plaza to keep 800 jobs in Kansas City. And the populous wants to string them up and call them everything that is bad about Kansas City.

    Thank you Polsinelli for staying in Kansas City.

  10. So happy that Urban Blight tours will be returning!!!

  11. Great news that Urban Blight tours will be back. Agree with poster who said you write better when you're pissed off. (Funny thing about passion...) Agree with you that too many of the pieces of the real history in this city are ignored- tarnished gems leveled for bright new baubles.
    As for the Kraske callers- didn't listen except to excerpts on TV news- the lady placing this 'threat' to the Plaza on the same level as the BP oil spill almost cost me a TV.
    Oh, I'm still chuckling over "...Liberace discovering a dick tree"

    Charter member MM Sackrider brigade (NO Seacrest)

  12. horsepoop.

    I refuse to be one of your sycophants, MM, even if I do like your writing.

    That crap they tore down for the P & L District was just that--mostly neglected crap. It wasn't one specific area, all done at the same time, in one specific, cool architectural style as, of course, the Plaza is.

    And did you see the picture of the glassy crap building they wanted to put up? It could go or be ANYWHERE. It had no specific style other than "contemporary" or "modern", which means "lots of glass". Sure, put it downtown where all the other glassy modern buildings are but not where the Balcony building is now, for pity's sake.

    Jools, above, is right. Where else would a visitor to this town go intentionally, if given the option? The Plaza, of course. And why? Because it's one little area in town where there is one continuous, well-done style of architecture. It's not like the rest of the Midwest--all done in the same, nondescript style.

    You're right about us being hypocrites, I'll give you that. We've let far too many things go that shouldn't have. Heck, that's America. But on this one thing--the "Country Club Plaza"--we've drawn a line in the sand.

    And this one time, you're wrong.


    Mo Rage

  13. Glassy building + one. good. tornado.

    I almost want to see that one.

  14. Mo you must have been so ready to argue your point about lines in the sand that you missed the part where I said they should probably leave the plaza as is. It's the outrage over a single building, the line in the sand rhetoric, that I took issue with. I'd wager the vast majority of those face bookers can't even tell you the last 2 or 3 tenants in that particular building. But take heart, I snapped a pic of the Funk today at that very corner, so it looks like you have like minds. Let me know when that facebook page goes up over the blight and decay of this city. Keep reading, you'll be a psyhco pants one day soon.

  15. Good, way to make us think. Ever since I moved here 20 years ago, I've noticed an eagerness to tear down old stuff. Older stuff is what gives character. I used to work in midtown, and I enjoyed the drive to work, even before 71 was done and I had to take surface streets starting at 75th street. It would hurt my heart to see fire take one of the great old 3 story houses in much of that neighborhood. Or even the little craftsman homes.

    You are right in that I don't go to the Plaza a lot. It's not as unique as it used to be, and so it is less of a draw. It is still the most attractive and well put together part of Kansas City. When my parents, who are slightly snooty, came to town, I put them up at the Ritz (now something else...) There was no thought of putting them anyplace else. So when this totally out of scale and out of type building was proposed, I thought it was wrong.

    Yes, they can build anything they want within the limits of the zoning and covenant on their private property. I would prefer they do right and work a compromise to preserve the basic character of the Plaza.

    Thanks for a thoughtful and well written entry.

  16. For me, I'm not outraged over this particular building. I'm upset over the precedent that this will set in the Plaza area. Sure, those other buildings were converted and new buildings have been built out to the west, but the main exterior architecture maintains the character of a mini-Seville that is the point of the Plaza. Not some generic glass box that would be at home anywhere and will stick out like a sore thumb. If they were even building something that was in keeping with the rest of the Plaza, I wouldn't give much of a damn.

    I admit, I'm a bit of an architecture wonk. I'm a midtowner, born and bred, and don't shop on the Plaza extensively anymore (although I love going to a movie theater that doesn't let kids in at night), but I walk down the Brush Creek walk with the dog, stroll around, hit up Three Dog, watch the crazies in Mill Creek Park for a bit, and then wander back over to the wrong side of the tracks.

    When I have people come to town, we hit the Plaza, mainly to look around. We also hit some of the better parks, drive around Janssen Place, head down the Paseo to old northeast. For everyone that comes here from "more urban(e)" cities, this always impresses them. Big glass boxes won't.

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  18. Liberace, dick tree. No Seacrest. LMAO.

  19. Mark- I like the old throwback parts of town too. We lived at 3423 Central until 1968, at wich time we moved to a small town called Blue Springs. My brother, who is your age, always tells of the days he owned every alley in midtown. From fighting the Puerto Ricans at Westport HS, to fishing at Penn Valley park. My first taste of the big city came in the 70's, when I would spend summers with my aunt in Northeast. What fun! All those grand old homes on Gladstone blvd, Corinthian Hall, Cliff Drive, all that Pendergast Reddi-Mix concrete, all still there today, but ignored by the folks you speak of. So many stories and so much history, silently spins its yearn as I drive through the neighborhood I used to own. Yep, the old Northeast was once mine. Looking forward to your next urban blight segment, and as always, thanks for sharing your perspective. ps-damn glaucoma.