Monday, August 23, 2010

This 'n That 'n Bird's House

This makes me mad.

1516 Olive (approximately) today
I’ve written before how the site of the home of history’s greatest alto saxophonist, the home where Charlie “Bird” Parker grew up in Kansas City, is today a part of warehouse grounds. I’ve written how Eddie Baker of the Charlie Parker Foundation lobbied city councilmen at the time it was leveled, decades ago, to save it. But he was told it was just another old house that the city was going to raze. And they did.

However, where Parker lived at the end of his life in New York City is preserved on the National Register of Historic Places. Paperwork issued by the state of New York (here) reads in part, “This is to certify that Charlie Parker Residence, Manhattan, New York County, in recognition of its significance in American history and culture was listed on the…National Register of Historic Places on April 7, 1994.” The building even has its own web site (here).

Bird’s home in New York City? Preserved and recognized as a landmark. Where Bird grew up in Kansas City? We tore it down.

Then we engraved a tenor sax on his tombstone.


1516 Olive is the accepted address of Charlie Parker’s boyhood home, at least according to a couple of different books I have. But interestingly, a 1955 obituary I ran across (I think from The Kansas City Call, but I’m not certain), lists the address of Parker’s mother, Addie Parker, as 1535 Olive.

The obituary may be wrong. Or Parker’s mother may have moved down the street later on. Or maybe she was staying with friends after her son’s death. But what makes that address interesting is that today it’s the site of a building for Time Warner Cable.

If Charlie Parker ever did actually live there, I can’t imagine another plot of ground anywhere which has housed two more disparate contributions to our culture.


Next Sunday would have been Bird's 90th birthday.


Another interesting piece of history I ran across, while researching other posts, is an obituary for Bennie Moten from the time of his death, 75 years ago. I think it’s from The Kansas City Call, though that’s an educated guess. It reads:
Bennie Moten Dies As
Result Of Operation

Kansas City – April 2, 1935 – Bennie Moten, nationally known dance orchestra leader, died this morning at Wheatley-Provident hospital following an operation for the removal of his tonsils. He had not been confined to his bed before entering the hospital the night before the operation.

The 41-year old rotund band leader was a favorite among both white and colored dance fans from coast to coast and was famous for his “stomp” rhythm that had wide appeal.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 13, 1893, he was graduated from Attucks school and attended Lincoln high school but did not finish. He chose music as his career and began early in his profession as a musician.

He was a charter member of the Kansas City Musicians local No. 627 and as a boy played valve trombone in Dan Blackburn’s band.

Later he organized his own orchestra with three instruments. He acquired engagements in local theaters and played dance engagements in Kansas City and nearby towns. As his orchestra grew his popularity spread. He was director and played piano. Bennie was also the composer of several dance hits.

Last week his orchestra left for Denver to fill an engagement at the Rainbow Gardens. Bennie was to have joined them after he had recuperated sufficiently from the operation.

Pallbearers will be the men who were members of the original Moten orchestra. They are, Harland Leonard, Woody Walder, Ed Lewis, Booker Washington, Leroy Berry, Vernon Page and Thamon Hayes.

The obituary notes that Moten died at Wheatley-Provident Hospital. That building still stands.

Wheatley-Provident Hospital today
Located at 1826 Forest, between the 18th and Vine district and today’s Crossroads district, Wheatley-Provident was Kansas City’s first black-founded and operated hospital.

The original structure was built in 1902 as a Catholic school. In 1910, it was given by the Diocese to Dr. J. E. Perry, a black physician, to establish a clinic and hospital for black patients, and became the Perry Sanitarium. In 1916 or 1918 (I’ve seen both years cited) it was renamed Wheatley-Provident Hospital, after Phillis Wheatley, the first acclaimed black poet in America (her Wikipedia biography is here). The north wing was added in 1925. One history says Wheatley-Provident was the only hospital where black doctors could practice in Kansas City, Mo. until the late 1950s. It remained in use until 1972.

The building was last used in the 1990s as a haunted house.

Today, it is marked as a dangerous structure. The building was added to the Kansas City Register of Historic Places by the Kansas City Landmarks Commission in 2007 after being named one of Missouri’s most endangered historic places. It’s the state’s twelfth most endangered historic site on the 2010 list, here.


I guess I end this post as it began. Because to see a building so integral to Kansas City's history sit so jeopardized....

This makes me mad.


  1. Kana City jazz history runs deep, it's a shame Bird's house could not be preserved...and that hospital is creepy lookin

  2. what a sacrelige! Just listened to Crouch's "Kansas City Lightning" again. I was curious to see 1516 Olive.


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