History of the Western Auto building

Wordpress Image (1)

Pictures of the signs from today and 1915. | Photo by @em1.sam and the Missouri Valley Special Collection, Kansas City Public Library

Table of Contents

When one thinks of the iconic KC downtown skyline, the lit-up Western Auto sign is one of the first things that comes to mind. What if we told you that the building was not called Western Auto when it first opened? Or that there was a time where it wasn’t lit? Let’s take a look back in time at this monumental KC fixture.

Downtown’s getting fizzy

In 1909, the bubbling soda industry led the Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta to expand its distribution centers. Asa Candle, President of Coca-Cola at the time, chose Kansas City as the central west distribution center.

“The distributing facilities of Kansas City were superior to any other in this district […] equally advantageously located for passenger traffic […] Capital and labor were apparently living together in more harmonious relations than in any other city of equal importance,” Candle said.

In 1915, the Coca-Cola building was officially born — at 2015 Grand Blvd. The commercial style building was triangular + 12 stories high. To top it off, a large Coca-Cola sign garnished the top of the building. The sign would remain till 1928.

What about Western Auto?

The Western Auto Co. was founded in Kansas City by George Pepperdine. The business, which started in 1909, was based on selling automobile parts. In 1928, business expansions led the company to move to the 11th floor of the Coca-Cola building.

But soon, Western Auto took over by buying + renaming the building in 1951. As for the sign? The Coca-Cola sign was swiftly replaced with a Western Auto sign a year later.

The Western Auto building truly made its mark in KC and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. However, Advance Auto Parts bought the company and closed down the building 10 years later.

Looking at today

In 2003, the building was converted into lofts. The Western Auto sign was restored and relit that same year. The sign would be lit sporadically until 2018, after which Western Auto Lofts homeowners’ association funded the repair + restore of the sign so that it could continuously illuminate the city skyline at night. As of today, there have been recent reports of major repair works that need to be done to the building, with the possibility of residents footing a chunk of the bill.

More from KCtoday