Library District Walking Tour

Walking tour of the Library District in downtown Kansas City, MO.

Library District Walking Tour

Kansas City, Missouri 64105, United States

Created By: David

Tour Information


Kansas City at the close of the 19th century was beginning to shed its cowtown image and assume an urbane character. Dramatic physical and architectural growth in both the city’s urban core and in neighboring residential communities brought about stunning changes. With a marked shift in the location of the central business district to the area south of 5th Street, heralded by the construction of the New England and New York Life buildings, Kansas City declared its commitment to building an impressive skyline.

Postcard, Library district

At the time, Kansas City also boasted of having the third largest cable car system in the country and had become a national center for manufacturing and shipping, livestock sales and transportation.

Kansas City’s commercial neighborhood was first established along the south banks of the Missouri River. The business district, concentrated along Second and Main streets, was little more than a steamboat landing, a few stores, several warehouses, and a two-story log hotel. Frequent flooding and changes in the river’s course forced the early settlers to move their homes and businesses southward to the top of the bluffs overlooking the river. As the city expanded southward, Second Street lost its influence as a commercial center. The new downtown, extending along Grand and Main beyond Ninth Street, was carved out of bluffs, many sixty feet or higher graded to street level. The homes of early settlers that dotted the hills and ravines were demolished to make way for the expanding commercial district. (See note 1.)

An event that attracted major attention of capitalists to the promising downtown core was the construction of the second Kansas City Board of Trade Building, located at 210 W. 8th Street. (See note 2.) After a nation-wide competition, the firm of Burnham & Root, Chicago, was awarded the contract. The boldly scaled Richardsonian Romanesque building (razed in 1968), heightened the interest of architects, law firms, banks, real estate firms and insurance companies from Chicago and the East to invest in the area. (See note 3.)

Several commercial buildings (no longer extant) located in and around the vicinity of the burgeoning commercial center included:

Postcard, Library district

Vaughan’s Diamond, designed by the pioneer architect Asa Bebee Cross in 1869 in what was known as The Junction at the convergence of Ninth, Main and Delaware streets; the Broadway Hotel (later the first Coates House Hotel); and Coates Opera House located on opposite corners at Broadway and 10th Street. (See note 4.) Although business was thriving, it wasn’t until the 1880s that a building boom launched Kansas City into a first class metropolis.

Growth in the area continued. Hotels, theatres and amusement ventures gave prominence and new life to the district, while two major building campaigns announced the city’s shift in architectural style: the New England Building (1886-1888) designed by Bradlee, Winslow and Wetherall, Boston and the New York Life Building (1888-90) designed by McKim, Mead and White, New York City. (See note 5). Kansas City’s most desirable business location was now centered on 9th Street.

Printing companies, social clubs and smaller industrial concerns were introduced to the district in the early decades of the 20th century, adding to the spectrum of architectural styles. As the city’s concerns shifted southward during the later part of the 20th century, many of the area’s buildings were abandoned. However, with the rehabilitation of the New York Life Building, the First National Bank Building and many other landmark properties, the Library District has become, once again, a thriving community of mixed use. (See note 6.)

The Walking Tour

Library district walking tour (PDF)

The self-guided walking tour begins at the parking garage steps at the center of the 10th Street facade. Established in partnership with the Downtown Council of Kansas City and the Missouri Development Finance Board, the playfully executed, 500-car facility, completed in 2004, was designed by a team of Kansas City architectural firms: 360 Architecture and BNIM. The south façade of the garage displays a series of book spines, spanning significant titles of literature, while photographs of the historic district, enlarged from c. 1910 postcard images, line the west face of the garage.

The Library District is comprised of twenty-two commercial buildings, dating from 1881-1950, in the vicinity of West 10th Street, Baltimore Avenue, West 9th Street and Central Street.6 The architectural vocabulary of these prominent buildings range from high style designs spanning Neo-Classicism to Modernism, and to the classic two and three-part vertical block, with conformity in articulation, size and scale.

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

First National Bank Building

14 W. 10th Street Wilder and Wight (1904-1906) Wight and Wight (1926) Marshall and Brown (1964) HNTB (2001-2004) Constructed in three separate building campaigns for the First National Bank, the concrete and steel building features elements... Read more
Land Bank Building

15 W. 10th Street Keene and Simpson (1923-1924) Stark Wilson Duncan Architects (2003) Built for the Kansas City Joint Stock Land Bank, the Land Bank Building was one of five institutions nationwide that received a charter under the Federal ... Read more
New England Bank Building

21 West 10th Street Wilder and Wight, (1907) McKecknie and Trask (1930) el dorado inc (2004) As per Wilder and Wight’s drawings, the original plan for the New England Bank Building called for a one-story structure constructed of steel and... Read more
Finance Building

The original seven-story Finance Building had the distinction of being built primarily to supply office space for finance companies and their attorneys. Smith and Rea’s plans for the two-part vertical block Commercial style facility calle... Read more
University Club

916-920 Baltimore McKecknie and Trask, (1922-1923) William B. Fullerton and Earl McCamis (1959) The Neo-Classical masonry and reinforced concrete building was the third location for the University Club, originally established as a private m... Read more
Carbide and Carbon Building

912 Baltimore William A. Bovard, (1929) Exhibiting the hallmark vocabulary of the Art Deco style, the Carbide and Carbon Building was built in the era of the Great Depression, a period in Kansas City that, surprisingly, displayed unusual gr... Read more
Kansas City School of Law

913 Baltimore Avenue Wilkinson and Crans (1926) Displaying both Jacobethan and Chicago Style elements, the Kansas City School of Law Building is the fourth location for the school. Established in 1895 by prominent attorneys and judges, the ... Read more
Lane Blueprint Company Building

906-908 Baltimore Architect unknown (c. 1905) This masonry and reinforced concrete three-story building has its ties to the Neo-Classical tradition of architecture. Like other commercial buildings in the immediate area, this property was th... Read more
Wood's Building

101-107 W. 9th Street Architect unknown (1881) Erected by James W. Wood on speculation, the Wood’s Building for years was the office location of several prominent physicians, including Dr. Martha C. Dibble, one of the few female medical p... Read more
New York Life Building

20 W. 9th Street McKim, Meade and White (1887-1890) Gastinger Walker Harden (1996) Designed by the highly influential New York firm of McKim, Meade and White, the Renaissance Revival style New York Life Building was commissioned by the New ... Read more
Larue Printing Company Building

810 Baltimore Frederick C. Gunn (1910) Employing Chicago style elements in this two-story, tapestry brick building, prominent local architect Frederick Gunn designed the LaRue Printing Company Building for brothers Charles O. and George A. ... Read more
Bunker Building

Financed by real estate moguls Walter A. Bunker and John McEwen, the Bunker Building is representative of a fusion of styles including Gothic, Romanesque and Late Victorian. Bunker and McEwen, both staff members of the Kansas City Journal, ... Read more
Lyceum Building

102-106 W. 9th Street Attributed to George Mathews (1895) This four-story, late 19th century masonry and steel building, constructed in 1895, incorporates Chicago style elements in its richly ornamented, asymmetrical south façade. Built as... Read more
Kansas City Dime Museum

Financed by Abraham Judah, “a pioneer of theatrical activities in Kansas City,” the Kansas City Dime Museum operated as a theatre and exhibition hall from its inception through 1890. Judah, who brought the “Wild Man of Borneo” to th... Read more
New England Building

112 W. 9th Street Bradlee, Winslow and Wetherell, Boston (1887-1888) Constructed during one of the biggest building booms in Kansas City, the Renaissance-revival influenced New England Bank Building was the location of the New England Safe ... Read more
Savoy Hotel and Savoy Grill

219 W. 9th Street Simeon Chamberlain (c. 1888) Van Brunt and Howe (c. 1898-1900) Howe, Hoit and Cutler (1903) Architect, unknown (c. 1905-1906) Built in four separate phases, the Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau hotel and restaurant unites 19t... Read more
Baker-Vawter Building

915-917 Wyandotte Hoit, Price and Barnes (1920) In March 1920, the Baker-Vawter Company, with offices in Benton Harbor, Michigan, San Francisco, Indianapolis and Holyoke, Massachusetts, hired the prominent Kansas City architectural firm to ... Read more
Graphic Arts Building

Constructed to house businesses in the publications and graphic arts trades, the Three-part Vertical Block Graphic Arts building is treated with contrasting stone bands at the end bays and attic story. An annex, located at 208 W. 10th Stree... Read more
The Board of Trade/Centennial Garage

Posing a similarity in massing to the neighboring Graphic Arts building, the brick, eight-story building was constructed as a garage for the Board of Trade. The facility remains the only expression of post-WWII Modernism within the Library ... Read more
Board of Trade

127 W. 10th Street McKecknie and Trask (1923-1924) Board of Trade Building Stark Wilson Duncan Architects (2003) The third home of the Kansas City, Missouri Board of Trade, this 13-story, highly embellished commercial building, characterize... Read more
Burnap Building

107-09 W. 10th Street John McKecknie (1909) Stark Wilson Duncan Architects (2003) This Sullivanesque inspired, six-story commercial building is of reinforced concrete construction. The Burnap Stationery Company, originally established in Ka... Read more
Dwight Building

1004 Baltimore Avenue Charles A. Smith (1902-03) McKecknie & Trask, architects (1927) Stark Wilson Duncan Architects (2002) The ten-story Dwight Building is considered to be the first all-steel framed building constructed in Kansas City... Read more


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