Flag and Banner Building Little Rock Black History Monument
Two vacations with disparate roots collide this month in a historic building in Little Rock. Flag Day, an annual tribute to “The Star-Spangled Banner”, takes place today. Juneteenth, which celebrates the liberation of black Americans from slavery, is on the calendar Sunday and will be marked as a federal holiday Monday.
Both occasions have links to the three-story building at 800 W. Ninth St. Listed in 1982 on the National Register of Historic Places – it is now home to TheFlagandBanner.com. Known as Arkansas Flag & Banner, the company manufactures and sells American flags and patriotic badges as well as novelty banners. The besieged Ukraine flag, recently added to the inventory, is selling well.
Dedicated in 1918 as Taborian Temple and renamed Taborian Hall in the 1950s, the masonry structure was built by the black fraternal group Knights and Daughters of the Tabor. It has long served as an anchor for five business blocks. This stretch of Ninth Street was widely known as “The Line”, referring to the Jim Crow colored line that black Americans faced for many decades.
The hall’s first floor served in 1918 as an informal black soldiers’ club for black service members stationed at what was then called Camp Pike, but prohibited by segregation from base recreation facilities. During World War II, the three floors were converted into a USO club for black men at the renamed Camp Robinson as well as the Stuttgart Army Airfield.
Taborian Hall rose to fame beyond the black community after its Dreamland ballroom on the third floor opened in 1937. From then until the early 1960s, Dreamland hosted stars such as Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nat “King” Cole, Fats Waller, Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Otis Redding and BB King. Two other nightclubs operated on other floors of the building in the 1950s.
As “The Line” was eroded and then erased as social change was followed by the construction of Interstate-630, the clubs at Taborian Hall died out in 1970. The vacant building became a homeless shelter . A fire possibly started by a vagrant caused the roof to collapse, leaving the building under threat of condemnation and demolition.
It was purchased for renovation in 1992 by Kerry McCoy as the headquarters of her fledgling Arkansas Flag & Banner business, which she developed into a thriving business with a second outlet in Florida. She is determined to restore Dreamland Ballroom to some semblance of its former glory.
McCoy’s son, Matthew, leads Friends of Dreamland’s efforts to return the third-floor space to its former role as a social and entertainment venue. Funding for this ambitious project includes 2018 and 2020 grants totaling $999,391 from the U.S. Department of the Interior. One of the money’s goals is to bring the ballroom into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In a brochure, Matthew notes that the challenges of reopening were daunting, “but the biggest hurdle for a business model was the unprofitable nature of the structure itself – a very large, old empty space on the third floor with no elevator no running water. “A portion of the federal funds was used to install an elevator.
Adrienne McNally, the showroom manager, is happy to show visitors around Dreamland, taking the new elevator to the third floor. Partial roof repairs are evident, but air conditioning and heating are still lacking. Stripes of pink, shades of blue and other hues that brightened up the ballroom are still visible. Evidence of the venue’s use as a nightclub includes an industrial-grade corkscrew mounted on a counter.
Back on the first floor, the exhibit halls are filled with an array of flags, banners, and other patriotic merchandise appropriate for Flag Day and Independence Day. American flags for pole mounting come in 16 sizes, depending on the height of the pole, with the largest fluttering measuring 40 feet by 70 feet.
In addition to the national flag of Ukraine in various sizes, the store offers a novelty item “for a good laugh”. It’s a whoopee cushion emblazoned with Vladimir Putin’s face, priced at $15.99 – including $5 to help the Ukrainian Red Cross.
TheFlagandBanner.com (Flag and Banner of Arkansas)