Kansas City’s Vault of Knowledge

library upstairs

The ongoing revival within the heart of Kansas City’s downtown continues to be a source of pride for the city and its residents. At its center lies the city’s literary focal point, the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Library. Located at 10th and Baltimore, the former bank building is an architectural marvel and all-inclusive spot designed to unite the community through knowledge. Jonathan Kemper, long-time local preservationist and library board president, was the first to imagine the possibility of repurposing a formerly glorious building as the library’s downtown headquarters. In 2004 following the completion of the extensive restoration project, the library relocated from its prior home in the school board building. Kemper’s vision also included the Community Bookshelf, the 25-by -9-foot books that serve as the façade of the library’s parking garage. As one of the most-photographed elements in Kansas City, books are landing the city and its library on the national map.

The Great Equalizer

tile up close

No longer is the library just about checking out physical books. Today the institution is in a constant evolution to improve the literary, digital, cultural, and educational and employment literacy of the people of Kansas City with the goal of providing knowledge to all. This vision of the future firmly maintains the best of the past, cushioning library patrons in the timeless beauty of an era gone by. Entering through the main entrance, visitors take in the yesteryear grandeur of Kirk Hall, featuring molded ceilings and tall Doric architectural columns and veined marble repurposed from the original bank setting. The classic and stately atmosphere even carries into the library’s bathrooms. A subtle and well-proportioned cream-colored palette ushers visitors into the entryway with large rectangle tiles featuring a subtle wave pattern. Once inside, the full grandeur of the room becomes apparent. The walls feature richly toned one-inch glass mosaic tiles in shades of dark cranberry and bronze, adding a touch of class to a room that’s typically only about function. The softly shimmering tiles provide an elegant counterpart to the streamlined granite countertops and larger utilitarian cream-colored tiles lining the floor.

Architecturally Speaking

theater room

While the bathrooms are definitely not what one would expect to find in a public institution, it might be the contents of the basement that will truly blow library visitors away. The library’s vault, a critical structural element of the original bank built in 1925 now serves as architectural component and home to the library’s film vault. Here library patrons can view a film on Saturday afternoons such as upcoming Ciné Shakespeare series, produced in conjunction with the UMKC Department of English. The series features four films (Shakespeare in Love, Richard III, Richard II and Coriolanus) based on the legendary Bard’s work. The film series, which began in February, is a teaser for six months of Shakespeare activities at the library including a summertime viewing of Shakespeare’s First Folio originally published in 1623.

Come grab a book, watch a film, or just to check out the facilities! Learn more about the Kansas City Public Library here.