August 31, 2009
LITTLE ROCK, AR – Ever hear of the Dreamland Ballroom in Little Rock, Arkansas? If you haven’t… you should, especially if you love old buildings, old music and like to party. Located on the top floor of the Taborian Hall, home of Arkansas Flag and Banner, the Dreamland Ballroom is currently in disrepair but there is a push to restore the historic landmark and now there is a non-profit group focused on this mission.
Led by Kerry McCoy, owner of Arkansas Flag and Banner, the Friends of Dreamland Ballroom is a non-profit committed to bringing back the music, the history, and the party of the Dreamland Ballroom. Kerry McCoy Said “We are committed to restoring the Dreamland Ballroom. It is a gem that this city can’t afford to lose to time and decay. Our plans are to restore the ballroom upstairs, then open it to the public for use as an event center and museum”. “Now that we have the non-profit status… the fundraising begins. Donations to the Dreamland Ballroom project are tax deductible” Says McCoy.
Mrs. McCoy is no stranger to bringing back old buildings. When she purchased the property back in 1991 to use as the new home for her business, the roof had fallen in and much of the inside had been destroyed by fire and water damage. The first two floors now house Arkansas Flag and Banner.
Stately Taborian Hall, located on the corner of Ninth and State streets, is the only remaining historic building on West Ninth, a testimony to the street’s former vibrancy and glory days as Little Rock’s “Little Harlem.” Once known as Taborian Temple, it was built for the African American fraternal insurance organization, the Knights and Daughters of the Tabor. Construction began on the Classical building in 1916 by local black contractor, Simeon Johnson, and was completed in 1918. Over 1,500 fraternal members attended the dedication of Taborian Temple in that year. Additionally, in August, 1918, a Negro Soldiers Club opened informally on the ground floor, providing a recreational center for African American soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Pike. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Taborian Temple housed many commercial endeavors including professional offices for Dr. J. V. Jordan, dentist, and Dr. W. B. Black, physician, the Gem Pharmacy, the Ritz Beer Garden, and the Dreamland Grill.
By 1937, the Dreamland Ballroom was firmly established on Taborian’s third floor. The popular dancehall with its famous “swing floor” was a hotbed for big bands, jazz, and blues, and the scene for dances, socials, and basketball games. It was a regular stop for the “Chittlin’ Circuit,” a national touring company of professional black entertainers, revues, and stage shows. With the advent of World War II, the United Service Club, USO, bought the building and turned the first to the third floors into a club that served thousands of black soldiers from Camp Robinson (formerly Camp Pike) and the Stuttgart Air Base. The Dreamland ripped and rollicked during those war years and beyond with legendary musical artists including “Fatha” Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald, and comedians Redd Foxx and Sammie Davis. Local stars cut their musical teeth in the Dreamland too including Blind Al Hibbler, Louis Jordan, the Yellowjackets, and Lloyd Armon and his Orchestra. In 1954, the Temple became known as Taborian Hall, and housed three nightclubs: Twin City Club was in the basement; the Waiters Club was located on the second floor; and the Dreamland had morphed into Club Morocco, with an emphasis on “rock.” During the 1950s, “The Blues Boy” B.B. King brought his “Three O’Clock Blues” to the premier night spot along with “Famous Blind Singing Star” Ray Charles who sang “Little Rockers” into hysterics with “Midnight Hour,” and “Roll With My Baby.” Throughout the early 1960s, Taborian Hall’s musical legacy remained strong, but by 1970 had ended.