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Kansas City hot spots

In the past 125 years, Kansas City has enjoyed a series of hot spots to gather for fun, from amusement parks to ballrooms. Here are some:

Merriam Park — Dedicated by former President Ulysses S. Grant in 1880 near present-day Shawnee Mission Parkway and Interstate 35. Forty-acre resort site featured lagoon, concessions, games and zoo with bear pit and monkey house. Thrived about a quarter-century.

Exposition Hall — Erected 1887. Grandiose, domed “Crystal Palace” near 15th and Bellefontaine streets was home of Industrial Exposition and Agricultural Fair beneath 80,000 square feet of glass. View livestock, farm equipment, crop displays. Beware of pickpockets. Destroyed by fire in 1901.

Troost Park — Built by Kansas City Cable Railway Co. to boost 1890s passenger traffic. Located between Tracy and Vine at 31st Street. Dance pavilion, boating lake, beach and undulating “Switchback Railway,” a kind of roller coaster for streetcars. City acquired property in 1902 to build the Paseo. Minus lake and carnival rides, Troost Park still exists.

Fairmount Park — Railroader Arthur Stilwell’s turn-of-the-century destination point for riders of Inter-City District line between Kansas City and Independence. Located at Kansas City’s eastern limit just north of what now is U.S. 24. Swimming pool, racetrack, “rest cottages,” fountains and canoe rentals. Died during the Great Depression.

Carnival Park — Opened 1907 in Wyandotte County near present-day Bishop Ward High School. Crowd favorite “Shoot the Chutes” pulled boats up an incline, down a runway and into lagoon. Closed by 1912.

Electric Park — Built at Brush Creek Boulevard and the Paseo by Heims Brewery to draw passengers to new streetcar line to its plant. Kansas City’s most popular hangout in the 1910s. Outlined at night by 100,000 incandescent bulbs. Lovers floated on “The Old Mill Stream;” thrill-seekers rode Greyhound Racer roller coaster or spinning “Bowl of Joy.” Closed after 1925 fire.

Fairyland Park — Eighty-acre site at 75th Street and Prospect Avenue was area’s premier amusement park for half a century. Hallmarks included towering Sky Rocket (circa 1930s), Kiddie-Land (circa 1950s) and, in the 1960s, “The Thriller” and “Wildcat.”

Fairyland survived at least five major fires, including a 1943 blaze in which the Ferris wheel “burned and cackled like a giant Fourth of July pinwheel,” The Star wrote.

In February 1964, newspaper reported “Negroes will be admitted” when the park opened that May, ending years of demonstrations. For a few years thereafter, admissions remained strong with end-of-school picnics and rock festivals replacing big band venues of previous decades.

By 1975, however, “television, air conditioning, the South Midtown Freeway … the Royals and Worlds of Fun — they’ve all taken a bite out of Fairyland Park,” a reporter wrote. A freak windstorm in 1977 pulverized the park, never to reopen.

Pla-Mor Ballroom — Popular dance hall “was the scene of party dresses and freshly pressed suits (and) the beginning of many romances under two big chandeliers that changed colors,” recalled The Star when demolition began in 1972.

Opened in 1927, the ballroom at 3140 Main St. eventually anchored eight-acre tract billed as “America’s largest indoor amusement center.” Adjacent ice arena showcased pro hockey. Ballroom and its springy maple floor converted to bowling alley after last dance in 1957.

Worlds of Fun — “Huge Fun Center Here,” declared a front-page headline in 1969 when Lamar Hunt announced plans for colossal theme park. Opened 1973. Together with Oceans of Fun, making debut in 1982, the parks span 235 acres and draw more than 1.5 million visitors yearly — now outpacing the Royals as metropolitan area’s top attraction.


— Rick Montgomery
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