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Jonathan Kemper's Kansas City Library Folly

Jonathan Kemper's Kansas City Library Folly

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Foolilsh means were employed to a fabulous end - the new downtown main library. Excerpt from VAGRANT LIBRARY
Foolilsh means were employed to a fabulous end - the new downtown main library. Excerpt from VAGRANT LIBRARY

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Categories:Book Excerpts
Published by: David Arthur Walters on Jan 18, 2014
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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January 20, 2004
 by David Arthur Walters DOWNTOWN KANSAS CITY JOURNAL The Book Shelf The facade of the jumbo parking lot across the street from downtown Kansas City's new Central Library will represent a gigantic bookshelf. The titles on the book spines will be selected by the library's trustees. The collection of titles will allegedly represent the mentality of Kansas Citians as determined by the trustees. I hereby personally recommend
The Praise of Folly
, by Desiderius Erasmus, to Jonathan Kemper and the  board of trustees of Kansas City's library system. The reasons for my suggestion are adumbrated below. I stand by awaiting acknowledgement. Funding Kansas Citians are delighted to hear that all systems are go for the Spring opening of the "Jonathan Kemper Public Library" in the renovated First National Bank Building. Of course in all humility and with all due respect to others involved, Jonathan Kemper, president of Commerce Bank and prime mover of the library project, does not like to hear the new library across the street from his office called "Jonathan's library." But  without Jonathan Kemper the library would never have happened: he stepped in and led
the funding campaign, raising fifty millions when it became evident that the cheaper to operate and already paid for structure at 12th and Oak might be closed for want of funds. Thank you very much. Speaking of funds, the Kemper family controls two large regional banks: Commerce Bancshares Inc., with assets of $ 13.3 billion, and UMB Financial Corporation, with assets of $ 8 billion. For better or worse, the Kemper family has dominated real estate development in Downtown Kansas City for many years.  Ye Olde Dumpe The librarians will be glad to get out of the old Public Library and Board of Education  building (architect: Edward W. Tanner). Completed in 1959, it is a glass-paneled box, an architectural "break from the past" that still gives absurd tribute with its limestone podium to the historical structures around it - the building is next to City Hall and the Metropolitan Police Headquarters among other public works of the Depression Era. The library has been taken over and "blighted" by vagrants. The historic Civic Center is inadequately policed and the library itself is mismanaged. The once modern building is, to put it bluntly, a dump - a reporter applied the term "fetid." The stacks in the  basement - 67% of the collection - are inaccessible to the general public, yet vagrants still managed to use the sometimes flooded basement for a toilet. Since the library entity  was spun off in 1988 from the Board of Education, the building has been inadequately maintained by the Board, much to the dismay of librarians concerned with the safety of the collection. It is with that in mind that a few librarians are concerned that Jonathan Kemper might be virtually privatizing the new library to the public detriment. However, they are not about to look a gift horse in the mouth too closely. The Neo-classical Digs The newly renovated structure for the library, the Neo-classical and Renaissance First National Bank building at Tenth and Baltimore, was designed by Wilder & Wight (established 1904) - laterly Wight & Wight (1916). The Wight brothers, trained in Europe, were largely responsible for the introduction of Neo-classical architecture to Kansas City; for instance, City Hall (1937) and Jackson County Courthouse (1934). The squat, pillared First National Bank building (completed 1906) is being renovated under the direction of Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff (HNTB) - the architectural firm well known for two of Kansas City's most fabulous modern buildings, AT&T Town Pavilion and 1201 Walnut. The renovated edifice will serve as the museum center piece for the eight-block Library District -the most recent commercial real estate remake of the downtown area dominated by Kansas City's Kemper family dynasty. Temple of Pluto and Athena The sedate old bank lobby and the vault have been retained by Mr. Kemper. He has a liking for history and old bank lobbies: he already presides over the antique lobby of Commerce Bank. The old bank was once an imposing temple of Pluto, god of wealth and death, and it will hopefully serve as Missouri's ark of high civilization once Athena,
goddess of wisdom and war, is properly installed. Since Pluto is god of the economic currency while Athena is goddess of the linguistic medium of exchange, we hope the relationship between Pluto and Athena will be amicable notwithstanding their liking for the death and war said to enhance their respective estates - a few scholars pose Athena as the goddess of
 war, in contrast to her friend or brother or consort, Mars, god of offensive war. Lady Folly Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam said Pluto is the Father of many things we hold dear, including Lady Folly. Wherefore Erasmus in his encomium to moriai (pun on Thomas More's name, resembling
, folly) puts these words in Dame Stultitia's mouth: "Neither the first Chaos, Orcus, Saturn, or Japhet, nor any of these thred-bare, musty Gods were my Father, but Plutus, Riches; that only he, that is, in spight of Hesiod, Homer, nay and Jupiter himself,
 Divum Pater atque Hominum Re
, the Father of Gods and men; at whose single beck, as heretofore, so at present, all things Sacred and Prophane are turned topsie turvie. According to whose Pleasure War, Peace, Empire, Counsels, Judgments, Assemblies, Wedlocks, Bargains, Leagues, Laws, Arts, all things Light or Serious - I want breath - in short, all the publick and private business of mankind, is governed; without whose help that Herd of Gods of the Poet's making, and those few of the better sort of the rest, either would not be at all, or if they were, they  would be but such as live at home and keep a poor house to themselves. And to whom hee's an Enemy, 'tis not Pallas her self that can befriend him: as on the contrary he  whom he favors may lead Jupiter and his Thunder on a string. "This is my father and in him I glory. Nor did he produce me from his brain, a Jupiter that sowre an ill-looked Pallas (Athene); but of that lovely Nymph called Youth, the most beautiful and galliard of all the rest." Kemper's Folly Speaking of folly: given the small taxpayer base to support the expensive and the failure of past downtown revitalization projects, some businessmen think "Jonathan's library" as well as the Library District project might be better named "Kemper's Folly" absent continuous funding from various nonprofit foundations controlled by the local power elite who have vested interests in commercial development in the district. In the event that Mr. Kemper is in fact, loosely speaking, a moron ("fool"), "his" library might be more likely to succeed: "Fortune loves those that have the least wit," sayeth Lady Folly, "for how can it be otherwise, when Fortune, the great Directress of all Humane Affairs, and my self are so all one that she was always an enemy to those wise men, and on the contrary so favorable to Fools and careless fellows, that all things hit luckily to 'em? "Fortune loves those that have least wit and most confidence, and such as like that saying of Caesar, 'The die is thrown'. But Wisdome makes men bashful, which is the

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