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Tag Archive: Kansas City

Feb 16

Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be “discovered” on a regular basis, and I just discovered it again. In a dusty box in the basement, I found this recently: A 1982 magazine article titled ‘KANSAS CITY: The Boom Town That Blossomed’, by the late Tom Ladwig, Mizzou ad/journalism professor.

An introduction to his story:

As writer and ad-man extraordinaire, Tom Ladwig once penned, “Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be ‘discovered’ on a regular basis.”

Kansas City was discovered again by many this past baseball season when the Kansas City Royals took the world by storm and made it to the World Series in October of 2014. For some, they discovered this surprising city for the RoyalsKKfirst time.

When I found the late Tom Ladwig’s story in a box of old magazines, I was delighted. Not only does he create a picture of how this town grew and blossomed, but it’s a timely tale in its own way. When he wrote this in 1982, he spoke of how Hallmark’s Donald Hall made a mind-boggling investment creating the new Crown Center in what was a badly blighted area. Ladwig wrote about the then relatively new Harry S Truman Presidential Library and the “plush” Harry S Truman Sports Complex as well as the Kemper Arena, “a snow-white, pillar less, space age building”.

It was interesting to me that he wrote about these as new, shiny, state-of-the art landmarks in Kansas City that we now consider antiquated. Now, they have either been remodeled a couple of times or are in need of a face-lift. We certainly don’t think of them as new.

Read on and enjoy this 1982 description of Kansas City-The Boom Town That Blossomed. It’s all seems new again.

KANSAS CITY:

The Boom Town That Blossomed

By Tom Ladwig

Published in March 1982 Edition of Ford Times, The American Road, Dearborn, MI

Tom Ladwig

Tom Ladwig and his beloved typewriter

(To read a related column by Kay Hoflander

 about Tom and his typewriterclick here.)

 

Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be “discovered” on a regular basis. Many years ago, Andre Maurois, the French author and no-nonsense intellectual wrote, “Who in Europe, or in America for that matter, knows that Kansas City is one of the loveliest cities on earth? And yet it is true.”

What most Kansas Citians know (and visitors discover) is that their city has more tree-lined “promenades” than Paris, gushes with almost as many fountains as Rome and certainly has more hills. It’s greener than Ireland and is indeed a lovely city.

Kansas-City

French fur trader Francois Chouteau was the first white settler in the area. That was in 1821. When the Missouri River flooded his trading post he left for furrier pastures.

Independence, Missouri, a few miles to the east, had all the profitable Santa Fe Trail business. John C. McCoy, a Baptist minister’s son with a sharp eye for profit, opened an outfitter’s store at Westport, four miles south of Chouteau’s post, and grabbed that good Santa Fe business from Independence. McCoy’s store still stands, now restored as Kelly’s, a popular bar.

While all this was going on, “One-Eyed” Ellis was minding his own business down by the river, selling booze to the Osage and Kansas Indians and picking up a stray horse or cow now and then. He also acted as a sort of justice of the peace when the occasion arose.

A nearby farmer, Gabriel Prudhomme, got himself killed in a barroom brawl and his 257-acre farm (now downtown Kansas City) was put up for sale. McCoy didn’t miss a lick. He and 13 friends bought it for $4,220. They wanted to build a city, or at least, a town.

Because “One-Eyed” had a cabin close by with a hickory fire and booze, and because of his quasi-legal status, the group went there to choose a name for their town.  Besides, “One-Eyed” had a handy reference tool—a blue-backed Webster spelling book. He was named chairman of the group. One fellow who wore a slit-tailed coat wanted to name the town “Port Fonda” after himself. That was voted down. Another suggested “Possum Trot” and another “Rabbitville”. An argument flared. “One-Eyed’s” spelling book was no help.

But in the end, he saved the day, or the city, as it turned out. He suggested, perhaps as a compromise, the name “Kansas” after his good customers. And so the town was named. Later, in 1853, it was officially designated Kansas City.

It became the hottest boomtown on the frontier. It was “wide open” and by 1857 public sentiment grew against open saloons and public drunkedness. There were 1,500 souls there spending $135,000 a year on liquor, a staggering figure in more ways than one. Robert Van Horn, a newspaper publisher, suggested editorially it might be a good idea to start some local distilleries. No use letting that good money go out of town.

With Van Horn promoting, the Missouri River was bridged and a rail link established between Chicago and the West. That did it. Business boomed and Kansas City shed its fur-trapper, Buffalo-hunter, Indian-fighter image and entered a period of opulence and the finer things of life. Gun-fighters Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday mingled with white-tie wealthy in the opera house, theaters, fine restaurants and gambling palaces. A library, a medical school and an Academy of Science were established, and permanent commercial and public buildings were built. Police and firemen were decked out in uniforms. Civilization had arrived.

At the turn of the century, the city boldly butted heads with Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland for the 1900 Democratic National Convention—and got it. No sooner had the award been announced than Kansas City’s new convention hall burned to the ground. The city’s spirit was such that 90 days later the hall had been rebuilt in time for William Jennings Bryan to receive the Democrats’ presidential nomination on July 4.

Newspaperman Henry Haskell, who established the Kansas City Star’s editorial policy (and picked up two Pulitzers along the way), said there were two things that made Kansas City great. The first was the great bend of the Missouri River and the second was William Rockhill Nelson, the Star’s publisher. Another noted publisher, William Allen White, said “Nelson was a traitor to his class, a rich man willing to attack the rich, especially if they were slumlords thwarting his dreams for a beautiful Kansas City.”

Nelson nagged, berated and abused the city into making something of itself. He made possible the William Rockhill Nelson Art Gallery, which along with the Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Art, forms the cultural core of a four-state area. In fact, the Nelson is the largest art museum west of Chicago and is ranked among the nation’s top half-dozen. It houses perhaps the largest collection of Oriental art outside Asia.

In 1907, J.C. Nichols, another fellow with a penchant for quality, bought a 10-acre hog farm and turned it into the beautiful Country Club district. He wasn’t just compulsive about quality; he was downright fanatical about it.

In 1922, Nichols took a 55-acre tract and developed the Country Club Plaza, a Spanish-style marketplace and now the oldest shopping center in the United States. It has become a way of life for thousands, with its waterfalls, tree-lined walks, wrought-iron fenced courtyards, gardens, fountains and statues. But best of all, eight gigantic enclosed parking areas make it a pedestrian delight The Plaza is still the standard by which other such centers are measured.

Joyce Hall, up in Nebraska, heard about that 1900 convention hall rebuilding feat and decided Kansas City was for him. He came down and founded the Hallmark greeting card empire. Donald Hall, a son, heads the firm today and has opened up spectacular new frontiers of his own.

He’s made a mind-boggling investment in the city—building an 85-acre “city-within-a-city” on a once-blighted area, which touches Prudhomme’s old farmstead. Taking its name “Crown Center” from the Hallmark logo, it has two major hotels (one with a 60-foot natural waterfall in the lobby), an elaborate shopping center, restaurants, an office complex and condominium towers.

The late President Harry S Truman learned his way around politics in Kansas City during the 1920s and ‘30s. (The Harry S Truman Library and Museum is located in Independence, just down I-70).

Kansas City never could do things halfway. While all the spectacular growth was under way in the 1920s and ‘30s, a corrupt and well-oiled political machine under Pendergast took over city hall. The Kansas City Star stopped all that in the late 1930s by exposing the Pendergast skeletons in city hall closets.

When Harry Truman decided to run for his first office, Pendergast gave him this advice, “When you are after votes, don’t wear a coat and pants that match.” Must have worked.

The Pendergast period had its brighter side—“Kansas City Jazz.” It developed in the Prohibition-era speakeasies and spawned such stars as Count Basie, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Benny Moten, Mary Lou Williams, Hot Lips Page, Julia Lee, and Baby Lovett.

Walter Cronkite honed his reportorial skills on a Kansas City radio station and in the old United Press bureau here. Ernest Hemingway credited Pete Wellington, the Star’s city editor, and his stylebook for developing the Hemingway style. He worked for the paper before World War II.

Joan Crawford, Burt Bacharach, Ed Asner, Ginger Rogers, Thomas Hart Benton, Jean Harlow, Walt Disney and Goodman Ace were all Kansas Citians who have fiddled with the national psyche at one time or another.

And Lord knows that Kansas City roast beef is the best in the land. And besides the Lord, Calvin Trillin (who writes about food for The New Yorker and Nation) says: “The best restaurants of the world are, of course, in Kansas City. Not all of them; only the top four or five.” Trillin says the best single restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. Bryant’s, a battered cafeteria in the shadow of old Municipal Stadium, has served thousands of ballplayers and newspapermen, along with several presidents, Jimmy Carter, the latest.

Each autumn, the American Royal Livestock and Horse Show take over the city. More than a million people see purebred animals from all over the world pose and prance.

Most of the city’s 1.3 million-plus souls are involved in some way in some sport. Their enthusiasm has produced the Harry S Truman Sports Complex, a plush stadium that is home for the football Kansas City Chiefs and the baseball Royals. The Kings were the roadblock the Houston Rockets had to get by last season to reach the National Basketball Association finals. Their home is Kemper Arena, a snow-white, pillar less, space age building that was the site of the 1976 Republican National Convention.

Some consider Kansas Citian Tom Watson the best pro golfer around. In the winter, while his fellow pros go to warmer climes, he sets up shop on a carpet in the greenskeeper’s shed at the country club, whapping balls through its garage doors onto the snowy hills.

But if sports are big in Kansas City, the performing arts are bigger. A couple of years ago, the nonprofit performing arts groups (theater, opera, dance, symphonic music, jazz, the Starlight Theatre and Theatre League) amassed three times more paid admissions than the football Chiefs and the basketball Kings.

The new International Airport is a marvel, with as little as 85 feet distance from plane to car, and you never walk much farther.

Kansas City has a young look and has the vibrant beat of youth. Young people come with the idea they can do anything they’re big enough to do. And they can—except for one thing.

They cannot tell a Kansas City native that the Gateway Arch of St. Louis is the “Gateway to the West.” That distinction belongs to Kansas City.

 

 

 

 th-1 th-2 th

 

Editor’s Note: Tom Ladwig-authored books available here.

 

 

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 5 — A surprise in Surprise. First published March 10, 2011, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

A surprise in Surprise

A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz (any old day). ~Humphrey Bogart

Hello Kansas City.

There is a surprise in Surprise, Arizona, and it is your Kansas City Royals and their breathtakingly beautiful spring training stadium.

If you have not been there dear readers, go if you can. Add it to your bucket list. It is that good, and I do not say this lightly.

I was in the land of the Cactus League this week visiting relatives and used the opportunity to take in as much of the spring training atmosphere as I could.

We watched the Kansas City Royals play a little ball and in the process discovered the joys of spring baseball training.

In the Phoenix metro area, there are 10 spring training ballparks shared by 15 Cactus League teams, and that means there is a lot of ball to see.

Besides, it is March and if one travels to Phoenix in March, it is written somewhere that one must see some spring ball.

We did our best to oblige.

Our plan, our personal baseball trifecta, was to see three games in three days.

On Day One, the Giants versus Mariners; on Day Two, the Royals versus Diamondbacks; and on Day Three, the Angels versus Rangers.

On Day One, we struck gold at the Scottsdale Stadium as we watched the world-champion Giants defeat the Mariners while Tim Lincecum pitched. We had no idea he would be pitching when we bought the tickets online. They don’t tell you these things in the spring. You may remember that Lincecum is the two-time Cy Young Award winner with a 25-mil contract who blew out the Rangers in last year’s World Series.

Skipping to Day Three, we watched the Angels beat the American League champion Rangers at the Tempe Diablo Stadium in a game that was mostly defense, a rarity in spring ball. Most of the games have more home runs than base hits, along with a high number of errors. But hey, it’s pre-season, and no one cares.

But let us go back to Day Two and the team we came to see—our Kansas City Royals.

My expectations were not high as we drove along Bell Road after eating lunch at the highly acclaimed In–N-Out Burgers in Peoria, Arizona, not far from the Billy Parker Field in the Surprise Recreation Campus.

As a Midwesterner, I didn’t know much if anything about In-N-Out burgers. We don’t have them because this small franchise of less than 300 stores serves only the western part of the country. Suffice to say In-N-Out is a fast food chain with a “loyal customer base”, a.k.a. California cult that loves animal-style burger and fries.

I’m in.

I learned quickly that nothing tops lunch at In–N-Out.

Nothing; therefore, after that high point we were intent only on enjoying the day soaking up sun at the ballpark. That would be enough.

We were about to be surprised, however, and I never saw it coming.

Here is some of what surprised me, besides In-N-Out:

Before we were out of the car in Surprise (very near Sun City), the picturesque Surprise Stadium, some say the best ballpark in the Valley, left us speechless. The Royals share it with the Texas Rangers, but this day, the stadium belonged to the Royals. The stadium alone is worth the trip.

We were surprised when the Sundancers (Sun City greeters) welcomed us as though we were their long-lost cousins from Pittsburg. In fact, one of them thought we were from PA due to the fact we looked like we were “from the north”. She said she can always tell Northerners because they are wearing shorts and tee shirts on what the Valley folks consider to be a cool day in March.

Pittsburgh and K.C. are in the north? That surprised me.

Seats galore, so take your pick. That surprised me. We found perfect ones right behind the Royals dugout and cheered loudly for each batter, whose name we never heard before, as if it were a Little League game.

Autographs and close-up pictures with the players–easy as pie to obtain. Granted, we never heard of them, but it’s spring ball. Did I mention that already?

Furthermore, I was surprised at the lack of formality in the ballparks, the absence of vendors hawking the crowd, little music or announcing and players wearing jerseys with no names on the back. It is sandlot ball, pure and simple, and I loved it.

Dear readers, there is so much more to tell about spring baseball in the desert that I have to stop now and write about it in part two. So stay tuned next week for the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.

By the way, spring ball confirmed something I long suspected: “There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” ~Al Gallagher, 1971.

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 7 — Baseball and the Royals, a hope that springs eternal. First published April 7, 2011, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Baseball and the Royals, a hope that springs eternal.

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True.
And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.?– George F. Will

I might just burst with excitement if I don’t say this before I start waxing poetic about baseball. How about those Royals!

I feel better. Now, on to my story.

Baseball fever is here, and many of us have the bug. It happens every spring.

More than flowers or sunshine or April showers, it is baseball that is our true April love. It has been that way as long as most of us can remember.

After all, baseball is America’s game. Granted it may have gone global, but we invented it, and we love it.

In fact, we love it so much, that when opening day of baseball season finally arrives, folks take off work often braving bitter temperatures and cold rain just to watch. You know the drill.

Some of us have to be there. Period.

Others of us prefer the coziness of our homes or offices on opening day, but make no mistake, we are paying attention just the same.

Each spring, baseball makes us believe all over again that all things are possible (i.e. how about those Royals), for a few weeks at least.

Any team can win the Pennant on opening day, maybe even the World Series. The worst team in the league can be at 500 in mere days. The coaches have winning records, and the pitchers have great stats. Every batter can be Babe Ruth, every fielder Jackie Robinson, on opening day.

If they can be all things, then so can we. At least that is our hope each and every spring.

To be on the safe side, we throw up a silent prayer along with our hopes, “Please do not break our hearts this season!” How well we remember last year when our home team had an indescribably miserable and embarrassing record, we lament.

Let’s face it. Some years, it is nearly impossible to be a fan. We pray it will not be such a year. We pray hard.

“No more 3 to 2 losses in the ninth, please,” we beg.

“No more pitchers losing their groove.”

“No more batting slumps by our star hitter.”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer understood our baseball psyche, our worries, and desperate baseball prayers such as these as long ago as 1888. That is when he wrote “Casey at the Bat”, the single most famous baseball poem ever written. “Casey at the Bat” was first published June 3, 1888, in the San Francisco Examiner.

Another writer Albert Spalding once wrote of it, “Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy, its somber story in measured lines. Baseball has Casey at the Bat.”

In his legendary poem, Thayer describes a baseball hero, the mighty Casey who is advancing to the bat just in time to save the day for Mudville’s home team.

It is fun to remember some of the poem’s perfectly written verses. Here are some excerpts:
“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play…
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.
The rest clung to the hope that springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that,
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat…
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped,
‘That ain’t my style,’ said Casey. ‘Strike one,’ the umpire said…
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, ‘Strike two’…”

Thus the legendary story goes, but let us pretend we don’t know how badly the game ended.

After all, it is April. Baseball season has just begun and all things are possible once again.

Case in point. I have the fever and cannot for the life of me resist saying one more time “How about those Royals.”

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