18th & Vine
Take a tour of Kansas City's Historic Jazz District
Located near the founding site of the Negro Leagues, this museum preserves and shares the history of African Americans in baseball from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement when MLB teams and Southern minor league teams began to hire black players, coaches, and front office personnel. The museum includes a replica of Kansas City's Muhlenbach Stadium with statues of the game's greatest players. Visitors begin their tour with a documentary film narrated by actor James Earl Jones that shares the general history of black baseball and the Negro Leagues. The museum then follows a timeline that places the history of the Negro Leagues within the larger narrative of American history. Exhibits include original equipment, jerseys, photographs, and several interactive displays. The museum concludes with exhibits about the hiring of black coaches and managers, and a gift shop that includes replica jerseys, books, pennants, and posters.
Built in 1912, the Gem Theater, originally named the Star Theater, served Kansas City's African American population as a “silent movie palace” (VisitKC). It was renamed the Gem Theater in 1913 and soon became an “established fixture” in the 18th & Vine district. Eventually, the theater switched from movies to live performances before falling into disrepair after the 1960s. However, unlike many other architectural landmarks of 18th & Vine's jazz age, the Gem Theater escaped the razing that took place in the 1970s and 1980s as part of urban development projects. In the 1990s, the theater was renovated in a process that removed much of the original interior to make space for a modern performance venue.
The American Jazz Walk of Fame was established on August 23, 2014 when the tradition of honoring jazz artists began under the influence of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II. Every year, a committee of musicians selected one or more musicians and dedicated a medallion in their honor in the sidewalk in front of the American Jazz Museum and the historic Gem Theater. Over the years, these medallions have formed a "Walk of Fame" within the heart of the 18th & Vine Jazz District. The medallion dedication ceremony has become an annual event, with celebrated jazz musicians performing in nearby venues to honor new inductees.
The American Jazz Museum celebrates the cultural, historical, and artistic contributions that occurred on the jazz scene in Kansas City. Located in the 18th & Vine historic district, and in the same area as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the American Jazz Museum showcases the cultural and musical explosion that hit Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s. Additionally, the American Jazz Museum is the only museum in the world solely focused on the preservation, exhibition, and advancement of jazz music. The museum includes interactive exhibits, educational programs, a working jazz club (the Blue Room) and the Gem Theater (a 500-seat performing arts center). As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the American Jazz Museum also presents music-related exhibits from the Smithsonian Institute.
A modern landmark within the historic 18th & Vine district, The Blue Room Jazz club is connected to the American Jazz Museum and showcases some of the most significant jazz musicians. A museum by day and hopping jazz club at night, the Blue Room blends music and entertainment with history and is a favorite for many residents of the Kansas City metro area. Established by Reuben and Ella Street as part of the Street Hotel (or "Street's," as it was known) in the early 1920s, the Blue Room became one of the most important venues in the geography of Kansas City jazz. The original Blue Room, and the hotel that housed it, was razed in the 1980s.
This eighteen foot statue commemorates the life and career of Charlie Parker, one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. Parker grew up in Kansas City and played at many Vine Street nightclubs before pursuing a musical career in New York and California. He is widely considered to be one of the creators of bebop. The statue features Parker's head tilted downward, eye shut, and lips pursed as if he were playing the saxophone. At the base of the status, an inscription reads "Bird Lives" a reference to Parker's nickname and his long-lasting legacy.
The Call is a prominent African American weekly newspaper founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1919 by Chester A. Franklin. Franklin took his newspaper from a small 4-page weekly to one of the leading African American weeklies in the nation, covering a mix of local and national events and playing an instrumental role in pushing for civil rights campaigns in Kansas City. However, Franklin's position on race was fundamentally conservative, and the ideal of racial uplift characterized his politics and the paper's attitude toward African American progress. Roy Wilkins, one of The Call's leading journalists, would go on to become the Executive Secretary of the NAACP, a position he would hold until 1977. The Call is published every Friday.
The Rochester was built by the George M. Bliss Construction Company in 1919-1930. Along with the Street Hotel, it was one of the only hotels where visiting African Americans could find accommodations during the 1930s and 1940s. Unlike the Street Hotel, the Rochester has survived the urban redevelopment projects that razed large swaths of the 18th & Vine district in the second hald of the twentieth century. Because it is adjacent to the Mutual Musicians Foundation, this is the place where jazz artists such as Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, and many others would have stayed during visits to the city. The hotel also provided accommodations for visiting teams for the Negro League. Before becoming a hotel, the building was a 24-unit apartment complex serving a working-class clientele; today, the building has resumed this initial function, now containing 8 apartment units.
The 18th & Vine Historic District is best known as the place where the Kansas City style of jazz and blues were born. This district was home to legendary musicians such as Charlie Parker and Count Basie, as well as numerous jazz clubs. The district was also home to numerous independent black businesses and a thriving African-American community. From the late-19th century to the mid-20th century, this area was home to dozens of businesses that catered to the needs of the community during an era of informal segregation. Today, the 18th & Vine Historic District is once again home to several jazz clubs, black-owned restaurants and stores, and institutions such as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Gem Theater, and the American Jazz Museum. The district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and there are several interpretive signs throughout the neighborhood.
In 1917, 25 African American musicians joined together to form Musicians Protective Union Local No. 627. The support offered by the new union enabled many of them to turn their music into full-time careers by helping secure fair contracts and working conditions, and allowing them to put down roots in Kansas City instead of working as itinerant musicians. In 1929, the union was officially incorporated and purchased an apartment building at 1823 Highland Avenue, which the union converted into its headquarters. The union thrived, in 1958 creating the Mutual Musicians Foundation to manage the building and other union assets. Though Local 627 was forced to merge with the white musicians union, Local 34, in 1970, the Mutual Musicians Foundation remains a social club and living museum, a testament to Kansas City's rich musical history and the power of labor organizing.
In 2010, almost a century after the Jazz Age took off in Kansas City—thanks to the hotels, clubs, and other establishments of neighborhoods like 18th & Vine, which served an African American clientele—this sign was erected on top of a former hotel. It was meant to both celebrate and help reinvigorate the area after decades of low investment, and harks back to a time when neon signs would have shone from many of the district's buildings. The 18th & Vine neighborhood, in addition to the clubs, hotels, and restaurants most obviously celebrated by the rollicking sign, was also home to a growing number of Black professionals who built their businesses and careers in the segregated city.
The Black Archives of Mid-America (BAMA) was established as a community museum and archive in 1974. BAMA closed in 2006 due to financial problems, but a community fundraising drive and support from the Kaufmann foundation allowed it to not only re-open, but also expand into its present location in the old Parade Park Maintenance Building. BAMA's permanent exhibit, "With My Eyes No Longer Blind" is named in honor of a Langston Hughes poem, "I Look at the World." The exhibit traces the story of African Americans in Kansas City and the surrounding region. BAMA is also a research facility for historians and genealogists.
Kansas City has a long tradition of barbecue, dating from the era after the Civil War when Southern migrants came to the city looking for work. The massive Kansas City Stockyards provided huge quantities of affordable meat to the area’s residents. Henry Perry began selling barbecue wrapped in a newspaper from a cart in 1907. A few years later, he opened Perry’s Barbecue, the city’s first barbecue restaurant. Encouraged by his success, more entrepreneurs opened their own restaurants, which were frequently concentrated around the African-American community of the 18th and Vine District. 1900 Highland Avenue, at the corner of 19th Street, was the final location of Perry’s Barbecue restaurant. Today, Kansas City is well-known for its delicious barbecue from about 100 different vendors, including Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque and Gates Bar-B-Q, who both trace their methods to Perry. The city also hosts the largest annual barbecue competition in the world at the American Royal.
The Kansas City workhouse is an 1897 limestone structure that resembles a castle. The workhouse was designed by local architects A. Wallace Love and James Oliver Hog, and since the Romanesque revival style was in style at the end of the 19th century, the architects chose the medieval castle design. Although it may look like it was built for royalty, the four-story Kansas City Workhouse was originally a city jail for petty offenders, vagrants, and debtors. As such, this historic workhouse put its prisoners to work. Women sewed prison uniforms while the men labored for the city’s public works department. Prisoners even quarried the limestone used for the workhouse’s construction. By 1924, the workhouse closed and the castle served many purposes until the building was abandoned in 1972.
African Americans in Kansas City established Lincoln Electric Park in the early 1900s. This amusement park for African Americans was located at 20th and Woodland and offered a respite from the discrimination the prevented African Americans from enjoying Electric Park, the city's other amusement park at 46th and the Paseo. On August 14th, the park was home to one of the first and only public showings of Lincoln Motion Picture Company's signature film, "Realization of a Negro's Ambition." The film was a response by the black-owned film company to the "Birth of a Nation," which presented former slaves as unworthy of full citizenship or equal rights.
Kansas City's Muehlebach Field was built in 1923 at a cost of $400,000 to the George Muehlebach Brewing Company. The stadium was built for the Kansas City Blues who played in the American Association. The ballpark was also home to the Kansas City Monarchs, the longest-operating and arguably the most successful franchise in Negro League history. From 1923 to 1955, the stadium housed the Monarchs and also featured four Colored World Series. In addition, the stadium was home to three NFL teams throughout its history. The stadium changed its name to Municipal Stadium in 1955 when it became home to the Kansas City Athletics, a team that was part of Major League Baseball's American League between 1955 and 1967. The Athletics left Kansas City for Oakland in 1968 but Municipal Stadium once again hosted Major League baseball when Kansas City and Seattle secured expansion teams in 1969. The Kansas City Royals called Municipal Stadium home for two years, moving to Royals Stadium (known as Kaufmann Stadium today) in 1971. Municipal Stadium also hosted home games of the Kansas City Chiefs between 1963 and the creation of Arrowhead Stadium in 1971. Today, the ballpark is gone and the area is home to several private residences.