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18th and Vine Buildings Damaged By Fire, City Officials Hopeful About Their Future

Julie Denesha and Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
The Security Loan and Investment Association building at 1816 Vine caught fire early Thursday morning. Embers spread the fire to the nearby Roberts Building

Updated 3:30 p.m.  

"While the flames were dramatic, the fire damage could have been worse," stated City Manager Troy Schulte in a news release. "The redevelopment plan will move forward on schedule."

City officials said Thursday that despite the damage to two of the buildings in the historic 18th and Vine jazz district "there are no plans to demolish the surviving facades as a result of the fire."

The 1920s buildings on the west side of Vine Street between 18th and 19th, including the Roberts Building, werefeatured in the 1996 film Kansas City directed by Kansas City native Robert Altman. The Roberts Building was "the site of the first black owned automobile dealership in America," according to the National Register of Historic Places

The Kansas City Star reports the city closed just last Friday to purchase the properties from the Jazz District Redevelopment Corporation (JDRC) as part of its redevelopment plan for the district. The city plans to continue to seek proposals for the block, between 18th and 19th from Vine Street to the Paseo Boulevard. 

Updated 11:45 a.m.  

City officials are looking to city inspectors and other experts to determine the fate of two buildings in the historic 18th and Vine jazz district damaged in a fire early Thursday morning. 

"We're hoping that the likelihood of this will put us in a position for repair," Councilman Jermaine Reed told host Steve Kraske on Up to Date. "We want to do everything that we can to stabilize and preserve the rich history that is there."

Reed added that the city started stabilization efforts in the 18th and Vine district two months ago, including the 1920s building where the fire started. "The building in between 1814-1816 Vine Street ... served as a loan place for African-Americans. And it was the only place African-Americans could go." 

The city allotted $7 million in funding in 2016 for the first stage of new efforts to improve the district. "We are making significant progress in the 18th and Vine area ... to just really tell the story of what is authentically Kansas City, and lighting a fire, in another way, to help preserve our rich history," says Reed. 

Updated: 9:50 a.m.

Dozens of firefighters were still on site around 8:30 a.m., hours after a fire first broke out at 1816 Vine Street, a two-story brick building that once housed the Security Loan and Investment Association. It then spread to the Roberts Building. The buildings were vacant. 

Kansas City Fire Department battalion chief Ted Henry provided an update: 

"Right now, we've pretty much got most of the fire out. We've just got a few hot spots left on this exposure roof that started from the embers," says Henry. "And then the city is going to have an engineering company come in and take an assessment of the building to see what can be saved and the status of the buildings."

According to Henry, there was "heavy fire involvement" in the first building. Firefighters weren't able to enter, says Henry, so water was applied from the exterior with an aerial apparatus. Flying embers spread the fire to the second building. 

"We've had at least 40 firefighters, (and) about 15 companies out here taking care of this at this time," says Henry.

Councilman Quinton Lucas has been heavily involved with recent efforts to revitalize the district. Lucas was hopeful that the buildings could be saved. 

"Fortunately, we've put a few hundred thousand dollars into just stabilization in the area lately," says Lucas. "The walls are strong. It looks like it would be a gutting operation thereafter, but I hope it helps us keep the buildings around because some of them are a century old."

Original post follows: 

A vacant building in the historic 18th and Vine jazz district in Kansas City caught fire in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday morning. A building next to it was aflame soon, too. 

Emergency crews arrived on site just before 5 a.m.. They also checked a third structure, shortly after 6 a.m., to make sure it wasn't at risk. 

One injury was reported. According to KMBC, a woman, who was possibly homeless, was trying to warm herself with a fire inside the building. She was taken to the hospital to be treated for burns.

By 6:30 a.m., the flames had mostly subsided: 

Roads were closed — Paseo between 18th and 19th and Vine between 18th and 19th  — as firefighters battled the fire.

KCTV 5 reported: "Crews on the scene saw flames shooting from windows of a building and as they battled those flames they noticed flames on the roof of a second building."

Here's what the fire looked like at 5:19 a.m.: 

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

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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