Rediscovering downtown KC the old-fashioned way
The Kansas City Star
A downtown errand launched me on an impromptu walking tour for a friend visiting from the West Coast.
Upfront, I explained we don’t have oceans or mountains or breath-taking skyscrapers. But this city a lot of appeal.
We dropped off my daughter’s car at Firestone at Locust Street and Truman Road (fulfilling a Daddy promise for two new tires and a front-end alignment) and took off on a Saturday morning stroll.
Walking isn’t a Kansas City pastime. But more people should put on their tour guide cap and try it with a friend.
Apart from the crowds of First Fridays and concerts or special events at the Power & Light District or Sprint Center, Kansas City offers a relaxing, enjoyable time. From Firestone, we headed south to what used to be the Hyatt Regency Crown Center hotel.
It is a Sheraton now. But construction on the more than 30-year-old hotel meant the entrance was dug out and the lobby stripped. Yet, the place was open and bustling with people and conventions. We followed others inside.
Viewing the construction from the elevated walkway brought back memories from July 1981. As a reporter, I helped cover the skywalks collapse and did stories afterward on the cleanup, lobby reconstruction and the litigation. We made our way over to a Sheraton restaurant for breakfast before walking across the glass-enclosed, elevated walkway to Crown Center for coffee and to read the newspaper in the food court area. It was good to find a lot of breakfast options downtown for pedestrian passers-by.
In the lobby of the Westin Crown Center hotel, we passed by women pointing at two strange closet-like enclosures. Each had a see-through glass door, allowing people to see whether the small space was occupied. The women wondered out loud whether those things, years ago, might have been — what were they called? — booths for pay phones?
I told them that they were, and I had used them on a few occasions to phone in stories to The Star when old-timers like me were pay-phone dependent. Cell phones have set us free to not only call editors and sources from just about anywhere but also to file stories instantly. Ah, technology.
Afterward, we went outside where Grand Boulevard was blocked for a street-filled event. Merchants displayed their goods for eager shoppers under the rising sun.
We crossed the street to Washington Square Park, passing a statue of the nation’s first president. The Missouri Korean War Veterans Memorial was a new attraction so I took a picture.
New features in parks will surprise longtime Kansas City residents. We walked past Union Station and then over the Main Street viaduct.
Walking tours can lead to impulsive ventures. We found one down the steps from Main Street to the Freight House District, entering Lidia’s Restaurant in time for brunch.
Certainly we had eaten enough for breakfast to be out plowing farm fields instead of taking a leisurely walk. But at Lidia’s we sat at the bar and, on a lark, ordered mimosas.
The ticking clock didn’t matter. An attendant at Firestone, however, called my cell phone and said the car was ready. We trekked back north to the auto repair shop, crossing through the art district. I pointed out Hamburger Mary’s — a fun restaurant. A party for July babies is to take place there tonight.
That can happen in Kansas City, I explained, because it is a very big small town.
We passed Bob Jones Shoes, where shoppers from miles around go for bargains. But we didn’t have time to stop because I had promised to get the car back to my daughter in time for an event she had.
We walked past the 101-year-old Kansas City Star building, where most of the staff is headquartered and then passed the 6-year-old Star Press Pavilion, where the newspaper is printed.
We got back to Firestone, four hours and three miles later. It was a joy to see the city at a slower pace, talk about its traditions and the newer things that keep it attractive.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send e-mail to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.