Restoring the Forgotten Dreams of the Taborian Hall

Historically significant building, Taborian Hall saved from destruction

The Taborian Hall is more than monumental; it is a living monument. The grandiose, Classical-style structure was built in 1916. It was part of the African American business district on West Ninth Street in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, and hosted legendary performers like B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong.

The area declined in the 1970s, and most original buildings were torn down. The Taborian Hall was empty and neglected until a local woman resurrected it as headquarters for her business. By doing so, she saved both the building and a part of Little Rock’s history.

Saved by a Woman’s Love

Kerry McCoy in Taborian Hall

Kerry McCoy often passed the ruin and dreamed of running her business, Arkansas Flag and Banner, from such a grand building. Eventually,

she worked up the courage to go inside and made her way to the third floor Dreamland Ballroom. Birds chirped and sun streamed in through a hole in the roof, and, in a moment of euphoria, McCoy saw past the wreckage to the majesty that could resurface.

In 1991, she bought the building and began repairing the roof. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, McCoy opened the first floor to the public and expanded her business to sell patriotic gifts and decorations at Taborian Hall. Although the first two floors were functional, the third floor remained in shambles for a decade after Flag and Banner moved in. Although the Dreamland Ballroom was perhaps the most interesting and historically significant part of the building, the cost of its renovation was prohibitive.

A Little Help from Friends

To get the restoration effort underway, McCoy created Friends of the Dreamland Ballroom, a non-profit group committed to bringing cultural events back to the ballroom. The million-dollar restoration project began in 2011 with work on the floor, stage, and the three balconies.

The group relied on donations to fund their project. In addition to attracting contributions from organizations and individuals, Friends of Dreamland launched the Buy a Brick campaign. The campaign allows donors to buy an engraved brick to be fixed outside the hall. Another popular fundraiser was the Dreamland Drive-in, a series of classic movies projected on the side of the building.

The Dreamland Ballroom after renovations

Friends of Dreamland also puts on Dancing into Dreamland, an annual event in which contestants dance in front of an audience and a panel of local judges to benefit the ballroom. The first event took place at the Governor’s Mansion in 2010. Since then, it has taken place in the Dreamland Ballroom.

The restoration effort has garnered much publicity. The PBS network AETN is documenting the work, and it has been the topic of several news articles. It has also revived an interest in the history of West Ninth Street. Author Berna J. Love wrote about the building’s history in her book, Temple of Dreams: Taborian Hall and its Dreamland Ballroom. She had previously researched the topic while working on End of the Line: A History of Little Rock’s West Ninth Street.

The Dreamland Ballroom is now operational and has hosted tours, weddings, parties, and a Jazz for Peace concert. It has also been used by artists, photographers, and dancers as a studio space. Restoration is still in progress, however, and Friends of Dreamland is now raising money for an elevator, to make the third floor more accessible.

Repurposing the Taborian Hall made an impact on more than McCoy’s flag business; it also rejuvenated local interest in an area that once meant so much to Little Rock’s black community. What was once a tarnished relic has now become an economically-viable piece of living history.

Original story from Porter Briggs: http://porterbriggs.com/restoring-the-forgotten-dreams-of-the-taborian-hall/

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