STORY BY Kelly Cannon
PHOTOS BY Ryan Nicholson

Fans of TV’s “Antiques Roadshow,” incredible houses, exquisite home décor and a good cup of strong coffee will find themselves with a perfect afternoon on their hands in West Plaza.

As one of Kansas City’s oldest neighborhoods, the West Plaza has a history laced with originality and tragedy. Although many of the more prominent neighborhoods in the same area were planned by influential real-estate developer J.C. Nichols, the West Plaza was formed by happenstance as people moved into the area and built what they could afford in architectural styles that interested them. Its diversity gives a pleasant contrast to the more homogenous styles of the surrounding ’burbs in Plaza and Brookside.

Writer Joe Montanari penned in the West Plaza Newsletter that wealthy businesspeople built the first homes here in the late 1880s, with blue-collar workers soon to follow. The early 1920s brought more money and mail-order bungalows to the neighborhood, most of which still stand. But one particular block stands out from the rest.

At 46th and Wyoming, several 1960s-era ranch houses line up looking like they’re waiting for Don Draper to drop by in his Coupe de Ville––most certainly mismatched with the older bungalows. Why? Almost 50 years ago, a high-pressure gas line ruptured and caused an explosion and subsequent fires so extreme that 21 fire stations and 250 police officers were called in to contain the fire and evacuate the neighborhood.

The next day, the Kansas City Times front-page headline screamed, “Gas Main Blows, 23 Houses Burn.” The explosion turned 11 homes into ash and damaged 12 more. Miraculously, no one was killed.

Today, of course, there’s no sign of the explosion’s crater, which measured 15 feet deep and nearly 24 feet across. Few of the neighbors know about the disaster that came close to leveling the gorgeous suburb, but certain aspects of the original neighborhood remain.

Just a few blocks down, the area along 45th Street has long been a favorite shopping spot. Years ago it was home to a grocery store, drugstore, butcher, bakery and at least one bar. Today, it’s known as Kansas City’s Antique Row and features multiple antique vendors specializing in collectibles that could have graced the older West Plaza houses during their varied pasts.

Nufangle (1707 W. 45th St.) offers collectibles they describe as “frippery and finery,” and I find them absolutely charming with a side of mystique. A “hullabaloo” chair made of rams’ horns dares you to relax while delicately avoiding the pointed tips. Various Wheels of Chance transport you to an old-fashioned carnival midway with the barkers calling, “Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and spin the wheel! Today may be your lucky day!” You’re almost sure to fall in love with something among the “thingamabobs” and “doodads.”

At R.J. Fendorf (1714 W. 45th St.), an English coracle picnic basket looks like it would enrich my life by providing Merchant Ivory levels of anglophile romance. Kincaid’s (1711 W. 45th St.) offers a very different experience, with antiques from China and the surrounding regions. Hand-painted screens, red-lacquered chests and driftwood coffee tables can add an unexpected touch to all décor tastes, from arts and crafts to contemporary.

Modern Love (1715 W. 45th St.) has classic-modern furnishings. The blond wood, satellite-like light fixtures and round chairs make me wish I could go back and grab my grandmother’s furniture circa 1965, because now it’s all tres chic. Pat Postans Antiques (1808 45th St.) has an entire cabinet full of charm bracelets and enough silver vases, pitchers and accessories to have you polishing for weeks. Show-Me Antiques & Consignment (4500 State Line Road, Kansas City, Kansas) has a little bit of everything, which includes turn-of-the-century furniture, all manner of cut glass, hard-to-find china patterns and fine and costume jewelry.

The award for the best use of double entendre goes to the Knotty Rug Co. (4510 State Line Road, Kansas City, Kansas), whose motto is “the knottier, the better.” If you have any question about the Knotty brand of humor, look for its ads with taglines like “Let me tickle your toes” and “I may look traditional but I can be bought.” With thousands of rugs in stock, the staff manages to do the impossible by matching you with the perfect rug based on a few pertinent questions.

Of course, after all the shopping you’re going to need some sustenance, and Eddie Delahunt’s Café & (4448 Bell St.) offers nourishment for the body and the soul. When you walk into his coffee shop and café, you feel like family immediately. Delahunt describes the place as “a pub with no beer,” and everyone gets a side order of craic with their coffee. Café & also has Irish tea, smoothies, pastries and sandwiches on the menu.

In addition to owning the coffee shop, Delahunt is a musician, singer and songwriter who regularly plays in bars all over Kansas City. This makes for interesting nights at Café &, where Delahunt says, “Here, the music session could break out at any time,” but if you want to be guaranteed a few songs, check out his website for a schedule of performances.

Just a bit north, Rudy’s Tenampa Taqueria (1611 Westport Road) and Cupini’s (1809 Westport Road) add global flavors to the West Plaza scene. Rudy’s has delicious Mexican food and very good margaritas. I can never decide if I want the steak tostada nachos ($6.49), fish tacos ($3.99) or papas y chorizo (potatoes with Mexican sausage, $1.50). Cupini’s serves fresh pasta, panini and fabulous desserts. Don’t walk out that door without trying the Italian cheesecake ($3.50) or zuccotto.

The West Plaza is a fascinating part of Kansas City where you can revel in a bit of yesteryear and find that perfect piece of history to make your own.

See more photos here.