City dedicates park at famous intersection

Monday, September 12, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's been nearly two decades since there has been a corner to stand on at 12th and Vine, an intersection made famous in the song "Kansas City."

That hasn't stopped tourists from visiting the empty field east of downtown to get their pictures taken at the site in an area that once thrived with all-night jazz halls, cheap dance clubs and elegant ballrooms.

On Sunday, a baby grand piano-shaped piece of land -- and a parking lot painted to resemble piano keys -- were formally named "Goin' to Kansas City Plaza at 12th Street and Vine."

The landscaped park will become a sculpture garden with trees and flower beds, ornamental lamps and a 13-foot plaque that tells the story of 12th Street, once the city's main drag.

"A lot of folk come here and take pictures, so now they can take a picture standing at the new street sign in a nice park," said Ollie Gates, a Kansas City barbecue magnate who was among those who worked for a decade to create the park. "It also helps create some beauty in this area. This was a forgotten area and perceived as undesirable. Now look at it."

The area around 12th Street and Vine was cleared amid urban renewal efforts in the 1970s, and the streets were realigned in 1977 -- eliminating the famed intersection. The city left a street sign to note the spot's significance at the edge of the 4.8-acre property.

The city recently adopted "Kansas City," written in 1952 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and made famous in Wilbert Harrison's 1959 version, as its signature song. And later this month, the Kansas City style of jazz will be highlighted at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, places such as the Reno Club, Orchid Room, Jockey Club and Boulevard Room thrived, with jazz luminaries like Count Basie, Charlie Parker and Jay McShann jamming all night at the local clubs.

"Almost every door you went in had a band," said Myra Taylor, a singer and dancer who started working on 12th Street in the 1930s before going on to perform around the world. "They had so much to offer. Food, clubs, dancing, all up and down 12th Street.

A law enforcement crackdown on liquor in the late thirties hurt business at the clubs, and live musicians gradually were replaced with jukeboxes.

"I think it's terrific," Juanita Moore, executive director of the American Jazz Museum and Gem Theater, said of the park. "The more attention we can bring to Kansas City jazz, the better for everybody."

Information from: The Kansas City Star,

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