Beyond Our Borders
12:52 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

The Story Behind Kansas City's House Of Cards

Have you ever driven through the Historic Northeast neighborhood in Kansas City, Mo., and seen a building with playing cards instead of windows? 

That's the house of cards, an abandoned apartment building at 7th and Indiana streets, that community members used to create public art. After a couple of years of dormancy, there's now some renewed interest to continue the effort.

Here's the story of how that project began: 

A couple years back, the Historic Northeast neighborhood in Kansas City, Mo., had a problem.

Too many vacant houses sat empty, boarded up and collecting graffiti.

Rebecca Koop, an artist who works and lives in the area, was concerned about what blight could do to her community.

With help from the city and other organizations in the area, she decided to create a public art project with abandoned buildings in the neighborhood. She repurposed the boards covering windows and doors into canvases for artists to discourage vandalism and graffiti.

“If a building looks abandoned, if it doesn’t look taken care of, it’s going to be abused and get worse,” Koop said. “It shows that the community doesn’t care.”

In 2012, Koop collaborated with professional artists and community members to paint the 38 doors and window boards at the former apartment building like a deck of cards.

They began with the best possible hand, a royal flush. 

Koop made stencils for the numbers and suits so that less experienced community members could easily fill in the spaces like a paint-by-numbers project. 

Koop painted a version of C.M. Coolidge's "Dogs Playing Poker" in one of the front windows on the porch. 

Rebecca Koop painted one of the front windows of a former apartment building at 7th and Indiana Street like C.M. Coolidge's "Dogs Playing Poker."
Rebecca Koop painted one of the front windows of a former apartment building at 7th and Indiana Street like C.M. Coolidge's "Dogs Playing Poker."
Credit Cara McClain / KCUR

“It’s a very iconic image,” Koop said. “I thought it’s tacky enough that everyone will just love it, and they do.”

A couple blocks away from the house of cards one year earlier, Koop and others did something similar with another pair of empty buildings.

They set to work on 3512 and 3516 Independence Ave. on a rainy day in September 2011. 

They painted on the boarded-up windows and doors with a hodgepodge of images. The silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock peers out of the top side window. A sock monkey plays a banjo in another. 

Koop said she hoped these examples of public art would give the neighborhood some pride. One of the buildings since has been condemned, while the building at 3516 Independence Ave. is up for sale. 

Koop said someone recently bought the building known as the house of cards, so she's not sure what will happen to the artwork.

As for future projects, Koop said she and several organizations in the neighborhood are in the planning stages of a mural arts project directed toward youth to help fight graffiti. 

Hector Casanova, an instructor at the Kansas City Art Institute, is planning the next window dressings project. Starting in the fall, Casanova and his students will be painting the boards of Scarritt Elementary. Listen to more about the project on Central Standard.

This look at Kansas City's east side is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east of Troost Avenue with KCUR