Mrs. Orel is back with another travelogue!
Kansas City, Missouri, is startlingly green in September. It may also be verdant in other months, but I happened to be a September visitor and grateful for a weekend away from our SoCal beige.
I had an entire Sunday to roam around a charming city dedicated to preserving architecture and culture while, one hopes, advancing beyond a bitter history of racial exclusion.
I drove through quiet streets in a downtown both fully modern and historically authentic, with brick buildings and signage that had my head spinning with images from the 1930s and 40s.
The city's main library branch sports a stunning facade of giant book spines.
The refurbished Folly Theater, built in 1900, is close to the modern Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
I found my way to 18th & Vine, the birthplace of Charlie "Bird" Parker and the signature Kansas City sound of jazz. In the early 19th century, this African-American neighborhood bebopped and bustled in 24-hour clubs virtually ignored by the laws of prohibition.
A black-owned hotel both employed and served members of a community otherwise banned from dining at linen-covered tables in downtown Kansas City.
As the civil rights movement took hold in the 50s and 60s, much of the population left 18th & Vine, the music scene diminished and the fine side of a robust locale became derelict.
A determined restoration of the area began in the 1990s and continues now, anchored by the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
I wandered through both of these museums, engulfed in poignant stories of struggle and bigotry side by side with artistic and athletic triumphs.
In the 1920s, tens of thousands showed up to watch the Kansas City Monarchs play on Sundays after church. In 1930, the Monarchs were the first team to rig a portable lighting system, enabling night games. This was five years before any major-league team adopted a nighttime lighting system.
Some of the baseball stars of the era:
- Buck O'Neil
- Rube Foster
- Satchel Paige
- Jackie Robinson
- Josh Gibson
- Oscar Charleston
- Cool Papa Bell
- Martin Dihigo
The baseball museum, a font of historical information, includes short films, replicas of player housing on the road, a typical barbershop, and the stunning Field of Legends, where bronze sculptures of the stars appear to be caught in mid-game.
Statue of Satchel Paige.
After a few hours of swimming in Kansas City jazz and baseball, I scored a table at Jack Stack Barbecue's famous Freight House joint for a cold brew, burnt ends, pork ribs and cheesy corn.
Don't know what I'm talking about? Then it's time for you to take a trip to Kansas City, MO.