Western Auto Building

A view of the Western Auto Building from Liberty Memorial.

General Info

  • Also known as: Coca-Cola Building (1914 – 1932), Chandler Building (1932 – 1948)
  • Built: 1914-1915
  • Location: 2107 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Architect: Arthur Tufts
  • Size:  12 stories, 58′ tall neon sign, ~150,000 ft²
  • Listed on NRHP? Yes
  • Listed on Kansas City Historic Registry? No
  • Current Use: Lofts (since 200X), there’s 93 of them in the building.
  • Prior Uses: Factory, office, warehouse space for Coca-Cola (1915 – 1932), headquarters for Western Auto (193 – ).
  • Owners: Coca-Cola Company (1914 – 1922), Unknown (1922 – 1929), Candler family (1929 – 1947), Emory University (1947 – 1950), I. Jerome Riker (1950-1951), Western Auto Company (1951 -1998), Advance Auto Parts (1998-2002), MCZ Development Corp. (2002 – Present)

The building at night, unfortunately while a letter in the sign was not functioning.

History

While the past couple generations of Kansas Citians may simply know of this building as the Western Auto Building, a place with one of the biggest signs in Kansas City, its history is a bit more than that.

The original purpose of the building was to serve as a regional headquarters for booming Coca-Cola in the 1910’s. The proximity to the brand new Union Station made the location an easy choice, even if the lot was a bit oddly shaped and a triangular building was the only way to make the best use of the lot. The headquarters came complete with office space, a production line, and a warehouse that opened in 1915. Coca-Cola was sold to Ernest Woodruff in 1919. He would sell the building to an unknown buyer three years later.

Large signs played a part even early in the building’s history, as the original construction included a large Coca-Cola sign that was on the roof until 1928. That sign actually faced north and was placed along the straight north side of the building.  Coca-Cola’s presence diminished during the Great Depression arrived, with the building entering foreclosure in 1929 and the company moving out by 1932. The original owners, the Candler family, bought the building out of foreclosure and gave it the family name.

As Coke moved out, Western Auto moved into the building. Starting in 1928, as the company grew, it expanded from just taking up one floor to taking up the entire building. Before being bought by Western Auto in 1951, the building underwent a couple ownership changes as the Candlers donated the building to Emory University, which then sold it to a New York investor before he sold the building to Western Auto. With the building finally their own, the company put a 58′ Western Auto sign atop the building in 1952.

The building served as headquarters for the Western Auto Company through good times and bad. The building itself was listed on the National Register in 1988. However, mergers finally brought about an end to Western Auto in 1998 as they were bought out by Advance Auto Parts, who reduced the number of employees employed in Kansas City greatly and put the building up for sale in 1999.

This was a great time to put the building up for sale. After dying slowing for decades, neighboring Union Station had just reopened completely refurbished and expanded. Liberty Memorial was undergoing massive renovation and expansion too. The Western Auto Building was soon snatched up for $8 million and underwent a $30 million conversion into lofts, which opened for occupation in 2004.

Detail of the sign.

Features

The Baltimore-based architect of the building, Arthur Tufts was an in-house architect for Coca-Cola, designing regional headquarters around the countries, each with its own distinctive style. Tufts may not be well known because he died 1920 at the age of 40 and thus would not have a portfolio that could compare to some big names in architecture.

Much of the Chicago-style exterior remains as Tufts designed it, from the brick to the terra cotta ornamentation to the style of windows. The quality of the construction may make the building look expensive, but it only cost $1,075,000 to build in 1914-1915. The detail of the design can be seen in the pictures of the building, so there isn’t much of a need to explain it here. The building has a consistent style throughout the middle levels, but is heavily ornamented at the highest and lowest levels, providing character.

The building actually has two entrance levels, one off of Grand, which is a north-south viaduct. The other is a level below off of the east-west 21st Street and was used as loading docks. The remaining side, the 203 foot long curved side, face the railroad tracks.

The west side of the building.

Floor Plans 

The first two drawings are historical drawings taken from the nomination form for the National Register. The third is what the floor plan looks like today, based off of parcel records.

Main floor.

 

Executive office floors looked something like this.

 

Approximate loft floor plan

Additional Photographs

A view that shows the Western Auto Building in relation to the rest of Kansas City's skyline.

North of the building.

Another view from the west side.

From the south side of the building.

Detail of the "pointy" south end.

The north end of the building.

Slightly misleading sign on the building just north. Western Auto also owned this building. The Western Auto building has similar signs next to its entrance off Grand.

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  1. Beverly J. Wallace /

    My mother Erma F. Hall worked in the office of Western Auto in 1944 in the building on Grand Ave. One story she told was in the hot summer since there was no A/C a maintenance man would come around and give each woman at her desk her own oscillating fan. Which blew their paper work everywhere. She said they had to have the fans so paper weights were valuable. Thank you, I hope you enjoyed my walk down memory lane as much as I did.

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