The Central Library has been located in the historic former First National Bank building since 2004. Both public and private funding were used to convert the old bank building into a library. The exterior architecture is original, and elements of the interior bank lobby, named Kirk Hall in honor of businessman and library advocate Phil Kirk, were restored to their original grandeur. Visitors to the Central Library will find many interesting spaces including a lower-level bank vault converted into a 28-seat movie theater, the third-floor Grand Reading Room with skylights, the fifth-floor Rooftop Terrace, and two formal art galleries. The bronze entryway doors, each weighing one ton, lead into the magnificently restored bank lobby. Named Kirk Hall in honor of downtown developer, Library advocate, and former DST chairman Phil Kirk, the lobby area houses new and popular collections of books and other materials, as well as the Library Café and circulation desk.
Early 1900s postcard of the interior of the First National Bank building.
First National Bank lobby (now Kirk Hall), 1953.
Ceiling detail in Kirk Hall, formerly the bank lobby.
Backstory and Context
There are several details of note in Kirk Hall. Gold metallic paint has been used to replicate the look of the original gold leaf ceiling. The restored chandeliers were installed when the lobby was renovated in 1925. Original check-writing stands situated in the center of the lobby when it was a bank have been repurposed as catalog computer stations on the east and west sides of the hall.
Completed in 1906, the original three-story structure was designed by architects Edward Wilder and Thomas Wight and features Neoclassical and Chicago School elements. The front is dominated by a row of six Ionic marble columns, each 34 feet high and weighing approximately 48 tons, as well as intricately detailed, 13-foot bronze doors. The deliberately imposing facade conveys permanence and security, desirable traits for a financial institution when the building was constructed. A fourth floor was added in 1926, and a north expansion was completed in 1964. A succession of banks occupied the space until 1999, when Bank of America consolidated its Kansas City offices and vacated the historic building.
By 2000, the Kansas City Public Library had outgrown its headquarters inside the Board of Education Building at 12th and McGee streets and began searching for a new location for its main library. Through a public-private partnership headed by the Downtown Council, and utilizing funds from federal, state, and municipal sources, as well as corporations, foundations, and individuals, the Library raised the nearly $50 million needed to convert the old bank building into a dynamic, urban library. HTNB was the principal architect for the project and began renovations in 2001. The Central Library was the cornerstone of a newly established Library District, which spans from Main Street west to Baltimore Avenue, and from 8th to 11th streets. A public grand opening was held April 12, 2004.
Adler, Eric. Vision Turns a Bank into a Grand Library. The Kansas City Star, January 4, 2004, 1A.
The Kansas City Public Library. “Library District, Kansas City, Walking Tour Guide,” Accessed November 5, 2020. https://www.kclibrary.org/sites/default/files/docs/walkingtour.pdf
“The First National Bank Building.” The Architect and Builder 21, no.2 (Feb. 1906): 17.
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library. “Interior View, First National Bank [Postcard].” Accessed November 24, 2020. https://kchistory.org/islandora/object/kchistory%3A59553