Christmas in Kansas City – More than Plaza Lights

(originally published 12/5/19)

Understandably, when Kansas City pictures itself at Christmas, those pictures are often of the Country Club Plaza lights. Celebrating its 90th year of official lighting (decorating actually began informally as early as 1923), it’s considered one of “the” lighting displays in America.

While the Plaza lights are a tradition to embrace, Kansas Citians know Christmas here is much more than that, and it’s hardly the only tradition that has some serious history behind it. So, thanks largely to the image archives of the Kansas City Public Library, this week’s post is a photo montage of Christmas in the uptown, midtown and downtown in our little Cowtown from the 1920s to the 21st century.

The 1920s

Top left: 1927 – The day after Christmas, the company that managed the Mainstreet and the Orpheum theaters downtown hold its staff Christmas party at the Hotel President. Original photography by the Commercial Photo Co.

Top right: 1928 – A year before the Plaza light ceremony becomes a tradition, Troost Avenue is resplendent in Christmas decorations. The photo looks south, just north of 31st Street. The Isis Theatre is on the right. Original photography by Cresswell.

Bottom left: 1928 – Christmas at Union Station was a far more modest affair than it is today. Original photography by Montgomery.

Bottom right:1929 – The South Central Business Association sponsored the holiday greeting on this billboard at Linwood and Troost. Original Photography by Cresswell.

1930s – 1940s

Top left: 1932 – According to the notes on the photo, two days before Christmas, “the 2nd Grade students of Hale Cook Elementary (in Waldo) play Santa to the students at Woodland Elementary (KC’s northeast area).” Photo taken at Woodland School. Original photographer unknown.

Top right: 1932 – The workers and their families enjoy the Christmas party for the Donnelly Garment Company, held in Kansas City’s famed Pla-Mor ballroom. Photo from company archives.

Bottom left: 1940 – Two photos of the Christmas celebration at the Guadalupe Center on the city’s west side. The left photo is labeled “Young hispanic angels in front of Christmas tree,” the right photo is labeled “An abuela (grandmother). Original photography by Anderson Photo Co.

Bottom right: 1945 – Santa pays a visit to children in the pediatric unit of General Hospital No. 1. Original photographer unknown.

1950s – 1960s

Top left: 1950 – From 1935 to 1970, the Fairy Princess at Kline’s Department Store at 11th and Main was a “must-do” for Kansas City kids. Just like Santa, the princess listened to children’s wishes. With a tap of her wand, a special gift for the child arrived via a secret chute. According to the Kansas City Museum, which revived the tradition in 1986, the owners of the store, the Kline family, were Jewish and so instead of having a Christmas Santa Claus, they chose to create a more secular holiday event to bring families into the store. Original photographer unknown.

Top right: 1961 – The main building at the City Market, on the northwest corner of 5th and Walnut, is decked out for the holidays. Note the original “City Market” neon sign on the right. Original photographer unknown.

Bottom left: Children of the Kester School are treated to a visit from Santa and a party, courtesy of the South Central Business Association. The event took place at the old Coca-Cola Company building downtown. Original photography by Anderson Photo.

Bottom right: 1960s era – Petticoat Lane (11th Street between Walnut and Main) was a popular place for holiday decorations, but the crowns that hang over downtown intersections were a mainstay of downtown Christmas decor for years. The lighted Christmas tree decor in the background adorned the front of Macy’s. Original photographer unknown.

1990s – 2000s

Top left: 1991 – Santa’s Wonderland was a fixture in Gillham Park for years. In addition to Christmas icons like candy canes, nutcrackers and a giant Santa (not shown), the fiberglass figures included unrelated pieces, like a bulldozer, a car and some now-politically incorrect hispanic figures. Original photographer Dory DeAngelo.

Top right: 1991 – For a long time, the progress of the Salvation Army’s annual red kettle drive was displayed for the whole community to see, measured in lights on a large evergreen in front of the WDAF studios on Signal Hill (northwest corner of Southwest Trafficway and 31st). Later, the display came to the Country Club Plaza, with a large red kettle serving as centerpiece. Original photographer Dory DeAngelo.

Bottom left: 1991 – While today’s tree is still as large, the Mayor’s Christmas tree area at Crown Center started as a more modest display, where it sat in the middle of Santa’s village. Original photographer Dory DeAngelo.

Bottom right: Early 2000s – For years, the traffic that “Comicville Christmas” drew to a suburban residential street in Prairie Village created havoc for the neighborhood, even as it added to the festive atmosphere for those who drove by to see it. For nearly 50 years, the Babick family continually added on to the animated decorations that filled their home, their yard and covered their roof. Ultimately, the massive traffic issues caused the Babicks to have to relocate most of their display to a more conducive venue. That venue? A Holiday Inn in Johnson County. Original photography by The Lope.

(Featured Photo: Christmas on Troost, 1929 – A lone policeman directs traffic at the intersection of Troost Avenue and 31st Street. This is a daylight version of the same scene shown in night time (The 1920s). But with the lights out, the stars strung across Troost are visible. Original photography by Montgomery.)

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