Natural and cultural features of Kansas City, Part 10: 18th and Vine

Mutual Musicians Foundation National Historic Landmark, 1823 Highland Avenue, Kansas City (N39⁰5’25” W94⁰33’43”), is a two-story brick building dating to 1904. It was a center for the development of jazz of the Kansas City style; and became the western center of American jazz after the shutdown of the clubs and red-light district in New Orleans in 1917. Kansas City Style Jazz was one of America’s indigenous musical types, developed in the 1930s and extending into the 1940s. The musicians who played jazz were often trained at the Mutual Musicians Building, which served as a clubhouse and recital hall. The musicians were members of Musician’s Union Local #627. The song 627 Stomp, by Pete Johnson and Joe Turner (1940), immortalized the building. Notable musicians associated with the foundation were Count Basie, Bennie Moten, Jay McShann, George F. Lee, Hot Lips Page, Dick Wilson, Hershel Evans, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Baby Lovett, and Pete Johnson.

18th and Vine Historic District (N39o5’26” W94o33’46”) includes buildings on 18th, 19th, Highland, The Paseo, Vine, and Woodland, dating to 1885. This was the center of black commerce in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was associated with the development of jazz music in the 1920s and 1930s. The Mutual Musicians Foundation National Historic Landmark is within the district. A bicycle lane separated from traffic runs along 18th Street and connects the 18th and Vine Historic District with the McGee Street Automotive Historic District in the Crossroads area.

Buildings on 18th Street:

  • Ethnic Art Gallery, 1514 East 18th Street, a two-story Italianate building dating to 1886.
  • Blue Room, 1600 East 18th Street, a two-story brick building dating to 1905. The Blue Room Jazz Club is operated by the American Jazz Museum.
  • Lincoln Building, 1601 East 18th Street, a three-story, Tapestry Brick Commercial building dating to 1921, now used for retail businesses. It also houses Kansas City NAACP.
  • Gem Theater, 1615 East 18th Street, a two-story brick building which dates to 1912. It was a movie palace and has been renovated into a performing arts theater. It is operated by the American Jazz Museum.
  • New Rialto Theater, 1701 East 18th Street, a three-story brick building dating to 1924.
  • Kansas City Call Building, 1715 East 18th Street, a two- and three-story building which dates to 1888; it has been occupied by the Kansas City Call newspaper since 1922.

Buildings on 19th Street:

  • Three one-story brick commercial buildings at 1510, 1514, 1516, and 1602 East 19th Street, dating from 1909 to 1927.
  • A two-story Italianate brick commercial building at 1600 East 19th Street, dating to 1890.
  • Sears Apartments, three two-story brick buildings at 1705, 1711, and 1715 East 19th Street, dating to 1910.

Buildings on Highland Avenue:

  • Grace Temple, 1812 Highland Avenue, dating to 1918.
  • Rochester Hotel, 1821 Highland Avenue, a three-story brick building dating to 1912.
  • Mutual Musicians Foundation National Historic Landmark, 1823 Highland Avenue, described above.

On The Paseo:

  • Holy Ghost New Testament Church, 1813 The Paseo, a two-story brick building with Neo-Classical detailing, dating to 1926.

On Vine Street:

  • Security Loan and Investment Company Building, 1816 Vine Street, a two-story brick building dating to 1922.
  • 1819 Vine Street, a two-story brick commercial building dating to 1949.
  • Site of Eblon Theater, 1822 Vine Street, dates to 1923 and was considered the finest Black theater. The current building is not the original structure and is considered non-contributing to the historic district.
  • Roberts Building, 1826 Vine Street, a two-story brick commercial building, no date.
  • 1827 Vine Street, a one-story commercial building dating to 1928.

On Woodland Avenue:

  • Centennial United Methodist Church, 1824 Woodland Avenue, a two-story Neo-Classical Style building built in 1928.

Attucks School, 1815 Woodland Avenue (N39o5’25” W94o33’38”), is just east of the 18th and Vine Historic District. It was placed on the National Register as the oldest school built for Black students in Kansas City. The 1905 building exhibits Colonial Revival and Dutch Colonial styles. Crispus Attucks was of Black and Native American descent and the first person killed in the Boston Massacre of 1770. In the 1800s, abolitionists publicized his role in the massacre and he came to be considered a hero of the Revolutionary War. The school is currently vacant (2021).

Blues Park (N39⁰5’19” W94⁰33’11”) is 5 acres on East 20th Street at Prospect Avenue, adjacent to the Burlington Northern Railroad. It includes basketball, baseball, and playground areas, with large cottonwood trees.

R.T. Coles Vocational and Junior High School (site), is described on a historic marker at 19th Street and Tracy Avenue, west of the 18th and Vine Historic District. The school was named in honor of Richard Thomas Coles, an educator in Kansas City between 1880 and 1930. The teacher and principal introduced new methods to educate African-American children with lifetime job skills, using a program providing instruction in skilled fields from the 5th grade through high school. He was principal at Pleasant Green School, which later became Garrison School. Programs in carpentry, house painting, blacksmithing, cooking, dressmaking, and millinery were included. In 1936, the Richard T. Coles Vocational and Junior High School was built at 1835 Tracy Avenue and named after the educator. It offered shop classes and programs in metal work, shoe conditioning, woodworking, and ceramics. In 1954 it became a general junior high school and in 1956 it was closed. It was demolished in 1965.

The Parade (N39⁰5’37” W94⁰33’45”) is a 21-acre city park bordered by Paseo, Woodland, Truman, and 17th Terrace. The Urban Youth Academy is within the park, and uses three baseball fields, including the Motley Family Field and Joe McGuff Field. The Parade Trail, which circles the park and is used for jogging and walking, is 0.3 miles.  The park contains the Gregg/Klice Community Fitness Center. The Parade is part of the Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District, and the stone entry steps are a contributing structure to the historic district. The park was included in an 1893 park plan by George Kessler, and acquired in 1900.  It was envisioned as a centrally located tract suitable for military drilling and training. Prior to designation as a park, the tract was used for circuses and hot air balloon launching. The park originally contained a sunken field of 5 acres used as a summer athletic field and a winter skating rink. The Parade Park Maintenance Building, 1722 East 17th Terrace at Woodland Avenue (N39o5’32” W94o33’40”), within the park is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was recommended to be built out of native limestone in the Kessler report on the park and boulevard system of 1893. It was built as a general operating plant, machine, and repair shop for the park and boulevard system. It was designed to house horse stables, vehicle maintenance areas, and administrative offices. Today it houses the Black Archives of Mid America, which offers a repository of every facet of African American culture, including public materials documenting social, political, and cultural histories.

The Paseo between Independence Boulevard and 18th Street (1.1 miles) is part of the Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District. It was part of the original George Kessler 1906 Parks and Boulevard System plan. The Rev. John W. Williams Memorial is in the median of The Paseo on the north side of Truman Road. The bronze statue was erected in 1991. Williams (1906-1988) is described on the statue as a fearless prophet, eloquent preacher, respected leader, loving husband, Christian statesman, faithful pastor, loving parent and world citizen. He was a civil rights activist and pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church from 1944 to 1983. The church is at the northwest corner of The Paseo and Truman Road. The Salvatore Gresife Memorial Plaza dates to 1968 and is in the median of The Paseo on a sidewalk connecting East 16th Street with The Parade city park. The stainless-steel sculpture adjacent to the inscription states that the memorial is dedicated to those citizens who believe in the principles of law, order, and good citizenship as best exemplified by Salvatore Grisafe. Grisafe was killed while trying to prevent the assault and robbery of two women. Bird Lives, the Charlie Parker Memorial, is on the southeast corner of The Paseo and 17th Terrace, commemorating the jazz artist. It was erected in 1999. Charlie Parker (1920-1955), was born in Kansas City and became a jazz saxophone player. He played clubs in Kansas City from 1935 to 1939. When performing with Dizzy Gillespie about 1945 in Los Angeles, he invented the musical style called bop or bebop. The nickname “Bird” was short for “Yardbird,” a term used for chickens, and could refer to the fact that he was free as a bird or that he ran over a chicken while on tour. The Paseo between Independence Boulevard and 18th Street (1.1 miles) is part of the Kansas City Parks and Boulevards Historic District.

Paseo YMCA, 1824 The Paseo (N39o5’25” W94o33’54”), is a four-story brick building with Colonial Revival influences dating to 1914. It is listed on the National Register because of its role in the social history of Kansas City’s Black community. It was the primary social center for Black citizens in the early 20th century. It remained important until integration of YMCA facilities in the 1960s and closed in the 1970s. The Negro National Baseball League was created in this building in 1920. It is now the Buck O’Neill Community Center.

Wheatley-Provident Hospital, 1826 Forest Avenue (N39o5’26” W94o34’10”), is a two-story limestone building built in 1902 and 1926. It was damaged by fire in 2018. This was the only private hospital available to care for Blacks in the era of segregation, and the only hospital providing training for African American doctors and nurses. It operated at this location from 1918 to 1972. The building is currently vacant (2021).