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Kansas City was expanding in the heat of summer 1955.
A hundred thousand more people since just before World War II. New freeways and viaducts and cloverleaf interchanges. A new bridge rising over the Missouri River at the foot of Broadway, and a new underground parking garage across from Municipal Auditorium downtown. It was the first summer as a major league city. The Kansas City Athletics, having moved from Philadelphia the previous winter, were playing their first season at Twenty-second and Brooklyn in an enlarged Municipal Stadium.
The Kansas City Zoo welcomed a new baby elephant named Casey, born in the wilds of Africa and purchased for the zoo by Arnold Johnson, the new owner of the A’s. The longtime team mascot was an elephant.
By the weekend of July 23-24, the A’s were not the worst team in the American League, but had lost 10 straight games, including three straight to the worst team, the Baltimore Orioles. Now here came the New York Yankees – Mantle, Ford, Berra, etc. – also in a slump but clinging to first place. The A’s somehow took the Friday night and Saturday afternoon games, then dropped a double-header on Sunday.
After games, major league ballplayers – A’s and visitors – often had dinner at the Majestic Steakhouse at Thirty-first and Holmes, run by Tudie Lusco, a veteran of the wide-open nightlife days of the Pendergast era. (In coming seasons Lusco would attend each A’s spring training in Florida and cook steak dinners for the team.)
The Majestic was a decade old, among established favorites like the Savoy, the Golden Ox, the Wishbone, Nance’s, Italian Gardens, Jennie’s, and the Forum. Putsch’s Cafeteria advertised its 11 a.m. opening, “plenty of time to get to the ballpark” for a day game. Joe Gilbert’s restaurant at the downtown airport was “open ‘round the clock,” and used the image of an elephant in advertising.
Gilbert’s former partner at the airport, Nathan “True” Milleman, now owned perhaps the city’s trendiest restaurant, the year-old Milleman’s at the corner of Pennsylvania and Ward Parkway on the Country Club Plaza. Newspaper society columns gave details of wedding parties, club meetings and retirement tributes at Milleman’s. A year earlier a front-page article in the Timeshad documented the restaurant’s soft opening. Highlights included a cocktail lounge called the Web Room, “with a jeweled spider and fly entwined in a large black web that overhangs the bar.” And the Fountain Room, upholstered in green and styled as an outdoor patio with a central fountain.
Another fountain just outside the entrance featured a mascot of sorts. Not an elephant, this one was drawn from Greek mythology. “Pegasus” was a small bronze flying horse, which sat on a pedestal in the fountain on the sidewalk. Inside the restaurant, “Pegasus” had his name on a second bar, and he starred in advertising.
Milleman’s patrons found white tablecloths and waitresses in long skirts and starched white blouses. They dined on steaks and roasts and fresh seafood, and afterward could buy a souvenir postcard at the front counter. As so happened that Sunday evening, when such a postcard was mailed to a suburban address outside Houston:
Sunday nite 7-24
Rita & Frank just took me to dinner at this ritzy restaurant – its lovely on the inside. Saw the K.C. A’s beat the N.Y. Yanks Sat.
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Milleman’s lasted until 1957, when Wolferman’s bought it and renamed it the Empire Room. In the early 1960s it became the Embassy. And for more than fifty years it was Plaza III.
The Kansas City A’s moved to Oakland after the 1967 season.
True Milleman died in 1973 at age 84.
Casey, the zoo’s African elephant, died in 2003. Thought to be 52, he was the oldest African bull elephant in North America at the time.
“Pegasus” was moved to a pedestal at Forty-seventh and Broadway in 1963. In 1990 he was stolen. His replica now stands on Broadway near Nichols Road.
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