Monday, April 23, 2012

This 'n That 'n a Map

By this time, the Cherry Blossom was a bowling alley. But there was a post office just a couple doors away. The Street and the Booker T. Washington and the Rochester all stood as active hotels. You could see movies at The Gem. There's apartments and homes throughout the district. A filling station sits right along The Paseo, just south of 18th Street. And on 18th, across from what today we call the Boone Theater, and a couple doors down, you could find an undertaker.

I’ve been introduced to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. The Kansas City Public Library’s web site probably offers the best explanation of them:

“These maps, created by the Sanborn Map Company to assist fire insurance companies to assess the risk of insuring a particular property, are a great resource. Besides showing what buildings existed in a specific area at a certain time, the original shape (footprint) is illustrated, allowing you to pinpoint any remodeling or other changes that may have occurred over time. The footprints are color-coded to indicate building material (e.g., brick, frame, stucco), and other symbols are used to indicate roofing material, location of chimneys, water line availability, and other features….

“Because it was prohibitively expensive to reprint them, employees of the Sanborn company would use a base volume and paste over areas where significant change had occurred (e.g., a new building had been built). For example, a base volume may be dated 1909, but the changes within that volume could date as late as 1945….”

Or 1950, in the case of the Sanborn map for the 18th and Vine district, which you can view on the library’s web site, here. Controls on the site allow you to enlarge and scroll the map.

The map provides a fascinating snapshot of the historic district. It’s a layout of the district three years before urban renewal would begin transforming the surrounding areas. It would be fourteen years before the Public Accommodations Act would pass, forcing Kansas City businesses to serve black patrons. It had been fourteen years since Count Basie left for New York. Musically, we were midway between Lester Young taking down Coleman Hawkins in an historic jam session at the Cherry Blossom, and The Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show.

18th and Vine’s day as a jazz mecca had passed. The Eblon, which opened as a silent movie theater in 1923, became the Cherry Blossom nightclub in the 1930s and then the Chez Paree (where Jay McShann and Walter Brown performed nightly) in the 1940s, is identified on this map as a bowling alley. The building which opened as the New Rialto Theater in 1924, was renamed the Boone Theater, and later Scott’s Theater, here is a National Guard Armory.

The district at this time was segregated Kansas City’s vibrant black downtown. 18th Street from Paseo to Woodland is packed with storefronts. Likewise, Vine. Most businesses are not identified. But among the ones that are, you find a couple of drugstores, auto repair garages, a bicycle repair shop, filling stations, a couple of printers, photo shops, a post office, offices, restaurants, hotels, homes, apartments, churches, a movie theater, a pool hall, and a building at 1823 Highland that’s labeled, Club Ho[use].

The map is a glimpse of 18th and Vine at a particular point in time, somewhere between its days of jazz and sin and its days of museums and a giant neon greeting.


Diverse Trio with Hermon Mehari, Ben Leifer and Ryan Lee. Millie Edwards and Michael Pagan. Joe Cartwright and “Duck” Warner.

So we know the jazz will be superb.

JazzBeats is a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer next Sunday, April 29th, in the Off-Broadway Theatre, at the edge of Penn Valley Park. It runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The organizers describe it like this:

“Brunch style small plates brought to you by local Kansas City restaurants and food trucks. Our menu ranges from chicken and waffles to tacos to quiche and bagels.

“A come and go as you please festival… an atmosphere of mingling, toe tapping and food sampling.”

More information is on their web site, here.


Two days later is May 1st. That’s International Worker’s Day. And you know what that means.

If you don’t, you can refresh your memory here. That’s the last time I photographed the People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City, one of the quirkiest and funnest big bands you’ll find. And International Worker’s Day is their holiday.

Last year at The Record Bar, they celebrated in part by playing a portion of their score to the silent film Battleship Potemkin. I noted in the post, “They have a complete score ready if a theater would show the film. Anyone?”

How about we settle for a library.

On Tuesday May 1st, the People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City will play their complete score during a showing of the silent film Battleship Potemkin at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Library. A reception starts at 6 p.m. and the film at 6:30. Admission is free. More details are here.

Until last year, I never thought that International Worker’s Day would become a holiday I look forward to. But, frankly, this year I can’t wait.

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