Kansas City’s commitment to its parks and landmarks is well known throughout the country, making it one of the most beautiful cities in America.
The landmarks and icons you find today range from statues paying tribute to the city’s history to whimsical and contemporary pieces by renowned artists. Following are some of the local favorites and most-photographed icons in the city.
Bull Wall & Bull Mountain
Bull Wall, by sculptor Robert Morris, is a tribute to Kansas City’s agricultural heritage and to the American Royal Livestock Horse Show and Rodeo, which began in 1899 and takes place each fall. Two 120-foot-long steel walls with cutouts of running bulls adorn the grounds of the American Royal Complex. Nearby, at the intersection of Genessee Street and Interstate 670, nine grazing steel bulls, cutouts from neighboring Bull Wall, stand on the hillside known as Bull Mountain.
Charlie Parker Memorial
In 1999, Kansas City unveiled a striking tribute to one of its most famous jazz performers, Charlie “Bird” Parker. Born in Kansas City, Kan., in 1920, Parker nurtured his talents against a backdrop of swinging Kansas City jazz and became one of the most innovative and influential jazz musicians in the world. Although he died at the early age of 35, Parker continues to impress and inspire today’s jazz lovers. The Charlie Parker Memorial Plaza is located in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, directly behind the American Jazz Museum. Bird Lives, a 17-foot bronze sculpture by Robert Graham positioned with the downtown Kansas City skyline as a backdrop, stands as the centerpiece of the memorial.
Goin’ to Kansas City Plaza at 12th Street & Vine
During the ’20s and ’30s, Kansas City’s 12th Street became nationally known for its jazz clubs, gambling halls and brothels. The area was immortalized in the song “Kansas City,” which features the refrain “I’m goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come…” In 2005, a piano-shaped plaza was built at the intersection of 12th Street & Vine to pay tribute to the song that made the area famous. The plaza features interpretive displays about the area’s heyday as an entertainment district when jazz clubs and gambling halls lined 12th Street, and visitors can pose for pictures under a replica of a historic 12th Street & Vine sign. Around the same time the park was dedicated, the famous tune was adopted as the city’s official song.
Kansas City Sculpture Park
The 17-acre Kansas City Sculpture Park is located on the grounds of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Visitors will discover more than 30 sculptures primarily from the 20th and 21st centuries, including 13 monumental Henry Moore sculptures, the largest collection outside of England. The park also contains modern art pieces by Alexander Calder, George Segal, Isamu Noguchi and others. Shuttlecocks, by internationally recognized artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, was installed in 1994. This whimsical collection of four nearly 18-foot-tall badminton birdies has become a symbol of Kansas City’s vibrant arts community. The Nelson is located at 4525 Oak Street.
Lewis & Clark Monument
On the site where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark stopped on their way back from their journey to the Pacific Ocean on September 15, 1806, sits an amazing monument dedicated to the duo. Award-winning sculptor Eugene Daub created the monument, which measures an impressive 21 feet across and 18 feet high. The Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery monument is located in Case Park at 8th and Jefferson streets in Quality Hill.
This 16-foot bronze statue was constructed as a memorial to the spirit of all pioneering mothers. The inscription at the base of the memorial, a passage from the book of Ruth, reads: “Whither thou goest, I will go, and whither thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.” Dedicated in 1927, it stands in Penn Valley Park, just south of the entrance leading to the Liberty Memorial.
This impressive statue of an American Indian on horseback looking north toward downtown Kansas City from Penn Valley Park is a memorial to local Native American tribes. The sculpture was originally created for the Panama-Pacific Expo held in San Francisco in 1915. On its return trip east, The Scout stopped over at Penn Valley Park. Citizens enjoyed the sculpture so much they raised $15,000 to purchase it for the city. The Scout is located in a section of Penn Valley Park that lies between Southwest Trafficway and Broadway Boulevard, just off 31st Street. From 31st Street, go north on Penn Street, next to the Firefighter’s Fountain.
Sky Stations/Pylon Caps
In 1994, Kansas City’s skyline made a dramatic transition when four massive metal sculptures with a cumulative weight of more than 70,000 pounds were airlifted to their perches above the newly expanded Kansas City Convention Center. This fascinating aerial installation required nine dramatic lifts by the largest commercial helicopter in the country, moving the sculpture segments to the top of four 200-foot pylons for assembly. The sculptures, titled Sky Stations/Pylon Caps, measure 40 feet by 30 feet. At night, the dramatically illuminated sculptures can be seen for miles. The steel artwork, by New York artist R. M. Fischer, has an Art Deco style derived from the adjacent 1930s-era buildings. The artwork was made possible by the Kansas City, Mo., One-Percent-for-Art program.
Steeple of Light
When Frank Lloyd Wright designed Kansas City’s Community Christian Church in 1940, he envisioned a shining beacon of light projecting from its rooftop dome. Unfortunately, technology at the time could not produce a light small enough to fit in the dome, yet powerful enough to achieve the desired effect. In the 1990s, Kansas City artist Dale Eldred researched and formulated an idea for installing the light. Several months after Eldred’s accidental death in 1993, the Rev. Bob Hill worked with Eldred’s widow and collaborator, Roberta Lord, to complete the light. The light was switched on in December 1994 and now shines every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night (except Good Friday and Holy Saturday). The dome holds four xenon lights—each rated at 300 million times candlepower—and can be seen for miles. The church stands at 46th and Main streets, near the Country Club Plaza.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1986 to all Vietnam veterans, with a special salute to veterans from the Kansas City area. It includes a memorial wall with the names of 336 area veterans killed or missing in action. On the east side of Broadway Boulevard, just south of the Westport area, the memorial includes a series of reflecting pools and fountains.