Monday, May 27, 2013

The Pla-Mor

It was torn down in 1972.

Before that, it was a rock concert hall. The Who performed there.

Before that, it was the seventh largest bowling alley in America.

But before that it was the Pla-Mor Ballroom, opened on Thanksgiving, 1927 to over 4000 patrons. The Kansas City Times raved:

“Entrance was under a brilliant electric sign. Once past the door, wall decorations of freehand painting attracted attention. Rich carpet gave an impression of luxuriousness. Up a flight of steps and down a hall past the women’s cloak room the eye followed vivid hunting and jungle scenes of the modern motif. Velour tapestries were admired particularly by the women. In the two women’s rest rooms imported Italian furniture was another feature. The ball room and mezzanine were decorated in a more strictly patterned manner. Here the lighting brilliance demanded the first and lasting attention. Ceiling fixtures of beaded glass chains suspended bowl-shaped, with variable colors glowing through them, vied with tinted lamps casting full and toned colors across the floor from the walls.”

The Pla-Mor Ballroom, 3142 Main, 1930s
On the northwest corner of Linwood and Main (3142 Main Street was the official address), the Pla-Mor complex claimed to be the country’s largest indoor amusement center, with a bowling alley, a restaurant, and a hockey arena, home to the Kansas City Pla-Mors of the American Hockey Association from 1928 through 1933. But the star attraction was the ballroom, which boasted a 14,000 square foot dance floor on top of 7000 springs that could flex up to a quarter inch, accommodating 3000 people.

It was the Pla-Mor that brought Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy to Kansas City. Kirk, in his autobiography, Twenty Years on Wheels, recounted:

“George [E. Lee] and the band stopped in Tulsa to see us….

“Later that evening George said to me, ‘By the way, Cab Calloway is breaking it up at El Torreon Ballroom in Kansas City. That’s the Pla-Mor’s rival.’ At that point, those ballroom names meant nothing to me, so I just said, ‘Oh,’ and he went on, ‘The Pla-Mor’s manager, Bennett Stydham, is looking for an out-of-town band to give Cab some competition. He doesn’t want us. He wants new faces. Why don’t you give him a call? No, better still, I’ll call him myself.’

“The next night Stydham drove the 360-odd miles from Kansas City to Tulsa to hear us. In a day or two, we had our contract. Thanks to George E. Lee, the Pla-Mor was about to have new faces. We didn’t even know what a plum we’d picked off the 1929 Boom Tree when we rolled into Kansas City that hot June day, the first out-of-town colored band to play the Pla-Mor. We were replacing Chick Scoggins, the Play-Mor’s White house band….

“We went into the Pla-Mor…that first night excited, a little nervous, but ready to give Cab at the El Torreon a real battle. There was just one hitch. We got the news that Cab had already left. We were alone on the battlefield. We went into our theme, You Can Take It From Me, with feeling.

“Stydham came up on the stand and introduced us to the dancers: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy. We brought them in from Oklahoma where everybody loves them. We know you’ll love them, too. Let’s welcome Andy Kirk and the band!’ They did. And every Cloud’s face that I could see from behind my sousaphone had a big grin….

“Only Whites could come to dance and attend sports events at the Pla-Mor, which was a regular entertainment complex with an arena for hockey besides the ballroom. The Clouds always got passes to the hockey games. We were the only Blacks in the audience, of course, and we got plenty of stares and looks until word was passed around that it was OK. we were the band. Then everybody forgot all about us and watched the game….

“For cooling the ballroom in those pre-air-conditioning days we had to depend on fans. They were the ceiling type with those great big blades that looked like airplane propellers….

“For the first time we could all belong to the same local musicians’ union. Up till this time we had all belonged to various segregated locals. But we resigned from them and joined local 627, the Kansas City black local. We became officially known as a Kansas City orchestra….

Inside the Pla-Mor Ballroom
“There were good music kicks right at the Pla-Mor, when bands like McKinney’s Cotton Pickers or Fletcher Henderson shared the stand with us…. At the Pla-Mor Fletcher Henderson was the band that really opened our ears. When they came in to guest for a night, the Clouds of Joy stood around the bandstand just like the customers, soaking up the sound….”

The Pla-Mor drew unwanted attention to Kansas City when, on Christmas weekend of 1945, the segregated ballroom threw out Cab Calloway, visiting to see Lionel Hampton’s band on Hampton’s invitation, because he was Black. Calloway was struck with the butt of a gun, requiring eight stitches in his scalp. Hampton, hearing about the incident, refused to play his second set and the Pla-Mor refunded angry dancers who paid $1.50 a ticket. The complete story is recounted in a Kansas City Star article here.

Post World War II moves to the suburbs by patrons precipitated the Pla-Mor’s decline. It closed in 1957 then was reborn as one of the country’s largest bowling alleys. That closed in 1966. From 1970 to 1972 it reopened as Freedom Palace, a rock concert hall. That operation moved to Cowtown Ballroom, which was a rock hall converion of the El Torreon ballroom at 31st and Gillham (still standing), the Pla-Mor’s one time arch-competitor. The Pla-Mor was demolished on March 31, 1972.


Today, the site is a car lot for Conklin Fangman Cadillac GMC Buick.


1 comment:

  1. Another excellent post Larry. It's sad that such a historic site is now a parking lot!

    ReplyDelete

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