© 2021 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & Life

Historic Buildings Near 18th And Vine May Get The Memphis Facade Treatment

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
This building at 1816 Vine was included in Robert Altman's 1996 movie 'Kansas City.' It was originally the Security Loan Investment Association formed by a group of black investors to serve black residents.

Kansas City's 18th and Vine shares similar roots with Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. And both of these music-infused, historically African-American districts have gone through ups and downs over the decades. 

Beale Street is now a thriving tourist destination with restaurants, bars, and shops, although some of its lively streetscape includes facades of historic buildings propped up with steel girders. 

Now the 18th and Vine district is in a time of transition, with a nearly $30 million proposal to revitalize the area expected to soon go before the City Council. If approved, historic buildings along Vine Street are likely to get a similar treatment to those on Beale Street. 

Four properties — 1814, 1816, 1820, and 1822 Vine — are slated for mixed-use redevelopment, and the facades would be preserved and incorporated. It's this stretch along Vine that still has remnants of a movie set from the 1990s. 

1814 - 1816 Vine Street: 

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
Cars drive past historic buildings on Vine Street.

The Security Loan and Investment Association opened in the 1920s in a two-story brick building at 1816 Vine Street. It served as a building and loan for black residents. Designed by black architect W. T. Thomas, the Association took the first floor; the second floor was occupied by Thomas and a realtor. In 1929, it was forced into receivership due to defaults on loans. 

The DeLuxe Night Club sign on the exterior of the building does not date to the 1930s. There was a speakeasy called the DeLuxe in Kansas City in the 1930s, but not at this location. The sign was created for director Robert Altman's Kansas City, which was filmed in the 18th and Vine district

1820 Vine Street: 

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

A sign on the outside of this building announces steam heated rooms for men. In 1995, when director Robert Altman shot his film Kansas City in the 18th and Vine district, the windows on the second floor were decorated as apartments, with curtains and lights.  

1822 Vine Street: 
Built in 1922, Eblon Theater opened in 1923 as a venue for vaudeville and motion pictures. The Eblon Orchestra broadcast each week from the theater on local radio stations, and Count Basie was the house organist for silent films.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
The Spanish Colonial facade (at far right) is all that remains of the Eblon Theater -- later The Cherry Blossom. The building burned in the summer of 1984.

The Eblon closed in 1930, and it re-opened in 1933 as the Cherry Blossom Club, where Count Basie headed up his first band, the Cherry Blossom Orchestra. The building was used again as a theater, and later, it was the site of the popular Chez Paree Club.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
A red doorway on the facade of the former Eblon Theater.

A two-alarm fire in 1984 led to the tear down of the theater auditorium. Now, only the facade remains. 

 Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
Your donation today keeps local journalism strong.