LR fundraiser among steps to revive historic ballroom

By L. Lamor Williams, Arkansas Democrat Gazette

ballroom2_t600.JPGLITTLE ROCK — A fundraiser for the Dreamland Ballroom didn’t go so well Saturday, but that didn’t dampen the spirit of a group working to raise $50,000 to restore the historic venue that’s hosted such icons as Duke Ellington, Etta James, Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald.

“I forgot about the Razorbacks game,” Kerry McCoy said, laughing and slapping her forehead with her palm. “We’re going to swap out our PowerPoint presentation on Dreamland for the game.”

McCoy owns Arkansas Flag and Banner, which takes up the first two floors of 800 W. Ninth St. in Little Rock. She bought the historic building in 1992 and has been trying to restore the Dreamland Ballroom on the building’s third and top floor.

The ballroom was a social hub in segregated Little Rock when Ninth Street was home to a thriving black business district. Then, McCoy’s building was known as Taborian Hall.

McCoy said she’d hoped to have the ballroom reopened by 2000 but realized that she’d never be able to afford it on her own. Now, the nonprofit Friends of Dreamland board is working to raise money and restore the facility.

She said the $50,000 is to install sturdy hardwood flooring so that fund raising events can be held in the space. Saturday’s event was to feature paid tours of the historic venue, but only a handful of people stopped by between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the tours were offered.

“The reason I love the Dreamland Ballroom is because it’s the only building like it in Little Rock. I’ve had offers to turn it into apartments, a club, a school, but it really needs to stay an event center open to the public. There’s been times when I thought ‘boy I wish I’d gone ahead and turned it into apartments’ because I know events centers aren’t real profitable. But I’ve got a lot of energy, and I’m willing to put all that energy into making it work.”

Ann McCoy, Kerry’s mother-in-law said, while standing in the front hallway near the store, that the building has already come a long way.

“There used to be a big hole all the way through,” she said, noting that a person could see from the third floor down to the first through the opening. “My favorite thing now is the views from the big windows. You can see the Capitol building, Philander Smith [College], it just has a beautiful view.”

ballroom1_t600.JPGToday, the floor is covered with plywood panels, some not completely secured. The walls have peeling paint and exposed brick, and some of the 1930s-style architecture is still evident along the box seats and molding above the stage in the 8,000-square-foot space.

Kerry McCoy said she mailed 1,000 invitations to the event and invited another 400people via the online networking Web site Facebook. She said several people pledged donations but didn’t attend.

Information on how to donate or schedule a tour, and receive a history of the facility, is available at dreamlandballroom.com. Among the opportunities is purchasing a brick for $100 that will be engraved with the donor’s name and used to pave the walkway to the ballroom.

“We just need 500 people” to buy bricks, Kerry McCoy said. “But, hey, we’ll take what we can get. There’s not a single person that doesn’t come up here and see the Dreamland and fall in love with it. And I hope we can get some really community-minded people behind it. I love to tour it. I never get tired of showing the Dreamland Ballroom to people.”

This article was published February 28, 2010 at 6:04 a.m.
Arkansas, Pages 1 & 5 on 02/28/2010

Here is a link to the video that accompanied the story on Arkansasonline.com – VIDEO HERE

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