A 1964 article in The Kansas City Star announcing the construction of the building at Truman Road and Grand described the stairway in those very terms -- a stairway of unusual proportions -- though it did not yet exist. Both the inspiring staircase and the building's aluminum solar-window shading were added later.
What store owner Rod Parks can't get over is that some people actually expect him to get rid of that stuff. "I'm like, are you kidding?" he says. "You couldn't have those screens put on today!" He's even had people congratulate him on doing something with "that old '60s building." As though there were something wrong with it.
As he takes us on a tour, Parks radiates admiration for all that screams "'60s!" The ashtrays affixed to walls. The old aluminum sconces in the back stairwell. The executive bathroom that looks -- from the outside -- like a wood-paneled closet and boasts a telephone by the toilet. Just don't call these things "retro." It turns out Parks isn't a fan of the word. He used it to name his store only because of the signs he'd managed to score from the old Inferno Lounge on Troost. Those signs are among the few things he's already moved to his new digs.
Parks has had an eye on the new building ever since he opened his first space. He needed a lot of room when he started but didn't have much money, so he looked downtown. "I saw this space, and I was like, 'Man, I'd love to have that for my store. That's the perfect downtown building.'" He ended up at 17th Street and Main instead. When the other building went on the market two years ago, he looked at it again but settled for buying some of the original office furniture.
He considered making an offer on the tricolored lights hanging in the back stairwell, but he decided they should stay where they were. "They just looked so cool here," he says. "I always kept in my mind that maybe I'd end up in this building somehow."
Parks' story is full of such serendipity. He inadvertently joined the ranks of People Who Know About Chairs while working toward a Ph.D. in counseling and psychology -- and furnishing his house. "Furniture stores didn't have what I liked, and if they did, it was too expensive," he recalls. "So I started combing the bushes, and I'd get a piece and somebody would say it was cool, so I started to trust my eye. When I started learning about it, then I really started going nuts." Soon, both his garage and his basement had become storage spaces for his finds, and he was displaying parts of his collection in galleries. He was only a dissertation away from his doctorate when he decided to pursue his passion full time.
Financially challenged décor buffs should strike while the thoughtfully designed iron is hot. Retro Inferno's clothing has already been marked down drastically. And starting some time next week, before the big move, Parks will sell the furniture in his storage rooms for relatively cheap.
But don't forget to visit him after the move, too. It's worth it. We can't wait for you to see what he's done to the floors. The only hint we'll offer is geometry.