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Central Library, Kansas City Public Library

Zone 1 of 6: Exterior and Parking Garage

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The Community Bookshelf installation spanning the south façade of the Central Library parking garage has become a frequently photographed downtown landmark. Standing 2½ stories high, it depicts 22 towering book spines that bear the names of 42 classic titles suggested by the public. Another art installation on the east side of the garage, The Kansas City Connection by local artist Bob Price Holloway, features notable figures in the city’s history. In the early 20th century, the garage location on West Ninth Street was home to the Sam S. Shubert Theater, which operated from 1906-1935. It was razed in 1936 to make way for a parking structure.


Community Bookshelf, looking east on the 10th Street. Photo: Mike Sinclair

Building, Daytime, Sky, Urban design

Community Bookshelf on West 10th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. Photo: Mike Sinclair

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Sam S. Schubert Theatre, 104 W. 10th Street, 1907. Currently the location of the Central Library parking garage and Community Bookshelf.

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Library garage and Community Bookshelf, northeast corner of 10th Street and Baltimore Avenue.

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View of the Library garage and Community Bookshelf on the northwest corner 10th St. and Wyandotte Ave.

Building, Daytime, Sky, Window

The Community Bookshelf installation on the south wall of the Central Library parking garage has become a signature attraction of downtown’s Library District. The garage was completed in 2004 and occupies the block of West Ninth Street between Baltimore Avenue and Wyandotte Street. A mural of 22 oversize book spines, standing 25 feet high, adorns the front of the garage. It is called the Community Bookshelf because community members were encouraged to recommend some of their favorite titles for inclusion. From those submissions, the Library’s Board of Trustees made the final selections.

Many of the chosen books were uniquely Kansas City-themed, such as Tom’s Town by William M. Reddig and Carrie Westlake Whitney’s Kansas City, Missouri: Its History and Its People, 1808-1908. Other notable works include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez, and Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Children’s classics by authors such as Margaret Wise Brown, Dr. Seuss, and Laura Ingalls Wilder are also represented.

Dimensional Innovations of Overland Park, Kansas, created the book spine graphics by using digital imaging software to alter scans of rare volumes and printing the images on signboard mylar. The design earned the company first place for unique signs in the 2006 International Sign Contest. Because of the Community Bookshelf’s striking design, the garage is frequently confused as the actual Library and is found on lists of the area’s most interesting structures.

The east and west sides of the garage also feature artwork. Over the east entrance is an enlarged version of Bob Price Holloway’s The Kansas City Connection, which features depictions of famous local figures – among them Walt Disney, who lived in the city and opened his first animation studio at 1127 E. 31st Street.

On the west side of the garage are two postcard images that have been enlarged and printed on screens. The views show the surrounding Library District in the early 1900s, when it was a bustling downtown center.

The site of the Library parking garage was once home to the Sam S. Shubert Theater. Constructed in 1906 and designed by Chicago architect Charles E. Fox, the theater boasted a fireproof design and a seating capacity of 1,625. The venue attracted notable performers of the period, including comedian and actor Eddie Foy, who appeared in the Shubert’s opening night show “The Earl and the Girl.”

The Shubert brothers—Samuel S., Jacob J., and Lee—created a theatrical empire during the first half of the 20th century, producing more than 600 plays, revues, and musicals and booking roughly 1,000 shows in theaters throughout the U.S. However, Kansas City’s Shubert Theater struggled through the Great Depression as live performances fell out of fashion with a public that more frequently turned to motion pictures and radio for entertainment. It closed after the 1935 season and was demolished the following year to make room for a two-story parking garage.

The property was purchased by First National Bank in the 1950s. Along with the bank building, it was sold to the Library in 2000.

Hart, James. “Literary giants to grace KC’s new library.” The Kansas City Star, March 1, 2004, B1.

Jones, Megan. “There’s a giant 25-foot-tall bookshelf in the middle of Kansas City.” Reader’s Digest [website]. https://www.rd.com/article/kansas-city-bookshelf/

Kansas City Public Library. “Community Bookshelf BiblioCommons List.” https://kclibrary.bibliocommons.com/list/share/704180288/1178615527

Public Broadcasting System (PBS). “Shubert Brothers.” Accessed November 24, 2020. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/broadway/stars/shubert-brothers/

“The Sam. S. Shubert Theater in Kansas City – photo from the archives. The Kansas City Star [website].. https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/eyewitness/article21613770.html