:: Kansas City

For a listing of our Fall 2013, please visit our Kansas City Programs page.

The Heart of America — Kansas City

Kansas City is one of the nation’s finest treasures. Travelers to this entertaining metropolis in America’s heartland discover a jazzy city brimming with surprises; a city with a great future forged by a rich historical past. Part of Kansas City’s charm lies in its beauty, which includes an impressive network of boulevards, parks and exquisite fountains.

Kansas City is known as the “Heart of America,” centrally located within 250 miles of both the geographic and population centers of the nation. The maximum distance from Kansas City to anywhere in the continental United States is approximately 1,900 miles, or half the distance from coast to coast.

Though famous for sizzling steaks and mouth-watering barbecue, the city also offers an incredible variety of cuisine. Visitors are delighted by the abundance of excellent restaurants of every ethnic origin. And with over 100 barbecue restaurants to its credit, the city is the nation’s barbecue headquarters!

A bit of history…

Kansas City played a major role in the nation’s history as a gateway for pioneers heading West along the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails. In the early 1800s, settlers, missionaries and traders began their overland journeys from several local points. Today, the city’s colorful past is highlighted by an interesting mix of museums specializing in subjects such as Jesse James, Harry S. Truman, the Oregon Trail and Hallmark Cards.

For many generations, the land around Kansas City was shared by several Indian tribes, including the Osage, Kansa and Wyandotte. In the early 1800s, trappers and traders began developing the Town of Kansas (later known as Kansas City) on the southern bank of the Missouri River, a short distance from where it joins with the Kansas River.

A few years later, thousands of pioneers would disembark from riverboats at this point to begin their overland journey, passing first through a lively market area, known today as the City Market. Farmers and vendors still offer home-grown, as well as exotic, produce, herbs and flowers in Missouri’s largest open-air farmers market. Unique gift and antique shops, popular restaurants and the Arabia Steamboat Museum are also housed in this area.

What you’ll find today…

Downtown Kansas City mixes an exciting blend of old and new. The skyline offers a striking blend of Art Deco buildings and modern skyscrapers. In 1994, the downtown skyline underwent a dramatic transition when four massive steel sculptures were installed on their perches some 200 feet H. Roe Bartle Hall, part of the Kansas City Convention Center. The sculptures, “Sky Stations/Pylon Caps,” are lighted at night and can be seen for several miles. The sculptures’ Art Deco style reflects the adjacent 1930s era buildings.

The Kansas City area offers a diverse selection of shopping and entertainment areas. Located a few blocks south of downtown, Crown Center, a privately financed project of Hallmark Cards, Inc., surrounds the international headquarters of the world’s largest greeting card company. This enclosed shopping and entertainment center offers more than 60 shops and restaurants, live theatres, cinemas and two hotels to five million visitors each year. The Hallmark Visitors Center tells the story of the greeting card giant through 14 exhibits. Guests can visit with a press operator demonstrating the process used in greeting card production, push a button to make their own colorful gift bow, watch excerpts from the company’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame” television presentations or step through a keyhole into a room filled with giant pencils, brushes, paint tubes and jars. Other Crown Center activities include the American Heartland Theatre, the Coterie Theatre, a children’s live performance theater with family programming, ice skating in the winter and outdoor entertainment in the summer. The complex features 29 restaurants.

Eighteen blocks south of Crown Center is historic Westport, once an outfitting post for wagons heading West. Today, Westport sports a number of unique shops, art galleries, restaurants and popular “watering holes.” A number of historic markers highlight the area’s history, and its role as the site of the last major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River. 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. A statue of Westport’s earliest contributors is also located in the park.

A few blocks south of Westport is the famous Country Club Plaza, an outdoor center covering 14 square blocks and containing more than 180 of the finest stores in the country, as well as dozens of restaurants. With its exquisite mosaics, statues and sparkling fountains, the Plaza is more than just a shopping district, it’s an outdoor museum. The Plaza’s Moorish architecture is modeled after Seville, Spain, one of Kansas City’s sister cities. Between Thanksgiving and mid-January, the Plaza is illuminated by more than 75 miles of colorful holiday lights.

Close to the Plaza are several impressive facilities for art lovers—the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the H&R Block Artspace. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of America’s most comprehensive general art museums, features 30,000 items dating from 3000 B.C. to the present. Completed in 1933, this magnificent stone neoclassical structure is considered the most distinguished art museum in the Midwest. It features an outstanding collection of Asian art, European art and 20th century sculpture. “Shuttlecocks,” an outdoor sculpture project, was installed in July 1994. The four giant badminton shuttlecocks span 17 acres on the museum’s lawn, and are the largest project by internationally renowned artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The museum’s Kansas City Sculpture Park features the largest collection in the United States of monumental bronzes by British sculptor, Henry Moore. The museum is in the midst of a $200 million expansion, which is expanding the museum by 71 percent. Completion is scheduled for 2007.

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art opened in October 1994. The museum provides direct access to important work created by international contemporary artists. The Kansas City Art Institute opened the H&R Block Artspace in November 1999. The Artspace is dedicated to contemporary art and visual arts education and organizes and hosts temporary exhibitions with a special focus on contemporary art.

Located about fifteen minutes from the downtown area is Independence, Mo., known as the “ Queen City of the Trails.” The National Frontier Trails Center in Independence is the only interpretive center, museum and archives dedicated to the three major trails. Here you can trace the steps of the early pioneers in their own words. The center is located on the site of a spring where pioneers once filled their water barrels. Directly across the street is the beautiful Bingham-Waggoner Estate. Built in 1855, the restored mansion has many of the original furnishings dating to the 19th century.

Independence is perhaps best-known as the home of Harry S. Truman, the nation’s 33rd President. Interest in the Truman legacy continues to grow. There are several sites of interest in Independence which revolve around President Truman and his family. The Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum and Library, located at U.S. Highway 24 & Delaware, is one of eleven U.S. Presidential libraries. One of the museum’s most impressive exhibits is the re-creation of the President’s White House Oval Office down to the last detail, including Truman’s famous “The Buck Stops Here” plaque. A major renovation of the facility was completed in 2004.

After years of anticipation and waiting, Union Station reopened to the public in November 1999. The nation’s first bi-state sales tax helped pay for the $253 million renovation. It features Science City, an interactive learning experience for young and old alike, restaurants, shops and a theatre district. Amtrak service has also returned to the station, the nation’s second largest.

The Museums at 18th & Vine opened in September 1997 in the area where baseball, jazz and good times reigned as part of Kansas City’s cultural life. This $26 million project pays tribute to the historical development of jazz and Negro Leagues baseball. Kansas City’s role in nurturing the development of jazz is known throughout the world. The Negro National League was founded in 1920 at the former Paseo YMCA, just a block from the museum. The Museums at 18th & Vine includes the American Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the Gem Theatre Cultural and Performing Arts Center. The Horace M. Peterson III Visitors Center offers an overview and history of the area and the facility.