||Historic Hot Spots
Historic Hot SpotsDuring the 1920s and '30s, Kansas City was known as the "Paris of the Plains." Old Kaycee was the commercial and entertainment center for points North, West and South.
Edward Morrow advised his readers in the Omaha World Herald, "If you want to see some sin, forget about Paris and go to Kansas City. With the possible exception of such renowned centers as Singapore and Port Said. Kansas City probably has the greatest sin industry in the world."
Many of the city's clubs never closed. According to Milton Morris, owner of the Hey Hay Club, it was customary to christen new clubs by giving a cab driver five bucks and the key to the front door of the club with instructions to drive as far as he could and throw away the key. Five dollars would send a cab a long way in those days. Club owners never closed their doors.
was lined with dreary flats. In every window, upstairs and down, were women. Some knitted, some read, some sewed. Bright lights, in some cases bordering the windows, lighted the women's faces...When the cab drew near, the women dropped what they had in their hands, seized nickels and began to tap furiously on the window pane. A steady drum of tapping accompanied the cab up the street.Fred Allhoff in a Liberty Magazine article in 1938 described a Kansas City with
three hundred churches and heaven knows how many gambling joints, at least one of which advertises regularly in the newspapers. You can name your games and stakes in dozens of wide-open gambling halls, in some cases operated or partially controlled by ex-election judges, ex-precinct captains and ex-cons.
For the musicians who migrated to Kansas City during the hard-scrabble depression years of the 1930s, Kansas City was a "heavenly place." Mary Lou Williams recalled fifty clubs featuring live music in a six-block area between 12th and 18th Streets.
18th and Vine, the southern boundary of this district, served as more than an entertainment center. It was the heart and soul of the African American community. In the days of public segregation, the 18th and Vine area was a bustling business hub at the center of a self-contained community.
The northern boundary of the district was 12th Street, which started downtown and stretched for miles to the east.
The Queen of Kansas City Clubs, Club Reno, was located at 602 E. 12th St. between Cherry and Locust. The Spinning Wheel at 1208 12th Street (12th and Troost) was owned by a gentleman known as Moon Eye.
A sign behind the bar advertised "Whiskey 25 cents a shot, Marijuana 25 cents a joint." Milton figured, "since both were illegal" during those years of public prohibition, "why not?"
The Subway Club, a popular watering hole at 18th and Vine, was owned by Felix Payne and managed by Piney Brown.
At 12th and Highland, the Sunset Club, also managed by Piney Brown, featured Pete Johnson's Band and a singing bartender named Joe Turner. The club had an outdoor public-address system, but "Big Joe" didn't need any amplification to step outside and call his children home.
At 18th and Paseo, the Blue Room in Street's Hotel was the "place to meet, to see, and be seen."
The State Line Club in the West Bottoms sat astride the state line. When the police from one state would raid the club, patrons would simply step to the safety of the other side.
The Chesterfield Club featured a businessman's lunch served by waitresses who wore nothing but shoes and see-through cellophane aprons and who shaved their "pubic hair ... to represent a heart, diamond, club [or] spade," according to Nathan Pearson's Goin' to Kansas City [ 41k image ].
Pla-Mor and El Torreon ballrooms.
Outdoor PavillionsDuring the summer, crowds of dancers flocked to the outdoor pavilions at Fairyland Park [36k image], Winwood Beach and Wildwood Lakes to dance to the music of Harlan Leonard and the Kansas City Rockets, Andy Kirk and Jay McShann's big band.
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