18th and Vine developed due to public segregation. All the businesses that occupied the area were established because those same services weren’t offered to African Americans downtown. 18th and Vine isn’t just a location, but a culture as well. Without the establishment of 18th and Vine, the development of KC jazz would likely not have occurred. It was a hub of mingling and mixing. The area consisted of professionals, strivers, career people, Uncle Toms, civil rights fighters, pan handlers, hustlers, and opportunists. Many great bands got their start in the 18th and Vine area including George E Lee, Bennie Moten, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Jesse Stone, Buster Smith, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Walter Page, Jay McShann, Harlan Leonard, Pete Johnson, Joe Turner, Andy Kirk, and Julia Lee. African Americans from rural areas began to bring the Blues in from rural areas and jazz began to filter in from New Orleans on the railroad. Jazz bands from the east coast also started traveling in. There were a few buildings that were significant to the area, including The Street Hotel, Lincoln Hall and Local 627.

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The Street Hotel was located at the North East corner of 18th and Paseo. It was financed by funeral director T.B. Watkins and known for having 60 rooms with both hot and cold running water. The hotel also contained a dining room that allowed 300 occupants and the Blue Room (a popular place to be seen at the time). The Street Hotel attracted many visiting musicians, Negro League baseball teams, and other wealthy travelers.

The  Lincoln Building, a three story red brick building located at the Southeast corner of 18th and Vine, contained the Lincoln Hall on the top floor, doctor, attorney and dentist offices on the 2nd floor and Matlaw’s, a men’s clothing store, on the first floor. Matlaw’s was the first mens clothing store in the area that allowed for the trying on of clothes, something not allowed downtown due to segregation. The Lincoln hall on the 3rd floor was a huge place for local bands and bands that turned KC into their home to play.

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The Local 627 Musicians Union did not have a building until William Shaw became the president. He raised money in a fundraiser and was able to buy a building at 1823 Highland Avenue. This allowed for them to have a center of operations to handle all kinds of musician deals for African Americans. Even before they had a building the Union was a huge deal because it brought in tons of bands from all over into the area enriching it’s diversity in musicians from all over the country.

Another popular location, the Reno club became involved in something called spook breakfasts that would start at 4:00 am on Monday mornings and would go all day long. The term “spook” most likely came from the late hours that they were happening because “spooks” came out during late hours. The same kind of atmosphere allowed all sorts of “street” battles between bands and there was plenty of collaboration, exchanging of ideas, and new ways of performing and writing music. Events like the spook breakfasts and other battles on the street just show how free-market everything was in the area. It didn’t matter the night of the week, people were going to celebrate. With little regulation this area was allowed to manifest.

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The nightlife was awry and Pendergast, the political machine, allowed for the open selling of alcohol during the prohibition due to corruption from within the Kansas City government. Curfews were loosely enforced, allowing clubs to stay open all night long. This went on for about 30 years until the election of Lloyd Stark. The decline of the KC jazz scene began when governor Stark turned on Pendergast after being elected. With his eyes on the senate, Stark wouldn’t be able to get there if under his direction KC was still considered the national crime capital. When elected governor, Stark began cracking down on nightlife in KC. He forced clubs like those in the 18th and Vine district to close on time with the curfew which caused many musicians to be out of work (because more time playing means more time for paying customers). This area would continue to decline until the early 1990’s when plans of a restoration project would come into fruition.

This historic district in Kansas City, was refurbished in the early 90’s due to the rich cultural significance of the black community that developed as well as being internationally known as the “cradle of jazz”. 18th and Vine wasn’t only a location where KC jazz thrived, but also black businesses and other cultural institutions. When the city and Black Economic Union decided to refurbish the district, it was to preserve the history and cultural development that is important to contemporary KC life. They did this by establishing a planning center that acted as a public information place in addition to a conference center for the staff. At the center, they had on display, art, objects from the Negro Baseball League museum, blueprints of the refurbishing plans. The Streets hotel, Lincoln Building and Local 627 were all important businesses within the district.

 

Links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LulL2hemlUY

 

Citations:

Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix. Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop- A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Barbara Clark Evans, Shakura Sabur, Claude Page, Ruby Jackson, Kenneth Walker “18th and Vine Notes” Volume 1, Issue 3 (1992)

“Black Economic Union Heritage Celebration” Editorial. Thomas Webster ed. 5th July. 1984