Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Matchless city: Crime scenes

The former Wander Inn today, corner of Ninth and Spruce.

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From a collection of hundreds of American matchbook covers dating to the late 1940s, I’ve culled a number of examples from Kansas City to present here. They offer a tiny sliver of that midcentury town as it was about to turn 100 years old in 1950. 

This grouping of three matchbooks conjures a gritty scene from a film noir movie of the '40s and '50s ...

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The Wander Inn – sometimes called the Wonder Inn – opened during World War II on the ground floor of an old lodge hall. It had replaced the East Side Tavern, a 1930s-era joint, and was known as a place to drink, dine and dance to musical acts like Buddy Jacobs and His Melody Girls. It could get a little rowdy at the Wander Inn, as in 1944 when a young wife cracked her husband over the head with a poker after he refused to dance. 

A 1947 ad.
One winter night in 1948 a dance-floor pickpocket provoked a scuffle in which the pickpocket smacked a 73-year-old man in the mouth and ran out the front door. A bartender and two patrons followed, including one Vernon Shepherd, an unemployed truck driver who had been sitting at the bar with his wife. 

Another man, a steelworker named Charles Cheek, remained on his barstool with his drink, which led Mrs. Shepherd to scold him for not helping her husband pursue the thief. Cheek cursed her, and when Shepherd finally returned another patron announced, Charles Cheek just hit your wife over the head with a chair.” Mrs. Shepherd was sitting on her stool with an ugly gash on her scalp. Whereupon Shepherd left in a taxi, returned with a pistol and shot Cheek four times in the chest and stomach. A jury later acquitted him of first-degree murder. 

Charles Bruno
Despite this matchbook’s reference to a “full license, the tavern lost its liquor license in 1950 for not reporting its true owner, a police character named Charles Bruno. Bruno had a rap sheet spanning 30 years that included narcotics convictions, which disqualified him for a liquor license. 

The Wander Inn survived under subsequent owners, operating under that name into the 1970s.

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The Gleeson family’s two taverns originated just before World War II; the Golden Arrow Inn came first, in 1937, followed a couple years later by the Buffet. Matthew Gleeson, who had immigrated from County Clare, Ireland, in about 1912, had bought land at 57thand Troost when Troost south of 47thstreet was still a dirt road, in the early 1920s.

An ad from 1937.
The Golden Arrow, initially at 5700 Troost, was one piece of Gleeson’s development, which included a corner Crown Drug store, the Southtown movie theater, and second-floor apartments.

Jimmie Gleeson
From the beginning the Golden Arrow promoted itself using the name recognition of Gleeson’s baseball-playing son, Jimmie, a former Rockhurst star then playing for the Cleveland Indians, as well as Jimmie’s incorporated partner, fellow Kansas Citian and major leaguer Joey Kuhel, then with the Washington Senators. During the war the Golden Arrow moved across the street into the former Crown Drug, 5701 Troost.

In 1949 the proprietor of the Gleeson Buffet, near 31stand Main, was Matt Gleeson’s wife, Elizabeth. Originally it had been run by Matt’s younger brother John, who had come from Ireland several years after Matt. John served on the Kansas City police force, ultimately as a lieutenant before his discharge in 1939. He was said to be an imposing figure, with a temper and a reputation for treating adversaries roughly. 

At about 8 o’clock on a Tuesday night in March 1943, John was bartending for a handful of customers when another former cop, Frank Noonan, took a stool at the end of the bar. The two knew each other from their days working at the 19thstreet station. Noonan later admitted taunting Gleeson that night for a poor showing as a candidate for justice of the peace. Then he ordered a beer. 

Gleeson's Buffet, 3041 Main, in 1940.
“I’m not going to serve you anything,” said Gleeson. “I don’t want you in here.” Noonan again demanded a drink. “I’ll see that you get out of here,” Gleeson said, starting around the bar. 

“Don’t come any farther,” Noonan warned as Gleeson closed in. Noonan pulled a .38 from his pocket and fired once into Gleeson’s chest. At his trial for first-degree murder, Noonan pleaded self-defense. The jury agreed.

The Gleesons kept the buffet until the mid-'50s, when it became the Main Street Bar. Other owners acquired the Golden Arrow in the ‘50s and it continued with that name  – with several violations of liquor laws – until the early 1960s. Both Gleeson locations are long gone.

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The Tick Tock Tavern apparently opened during World War II; it doesn’t appear in directories before that. In early years it seems to have floated among various addresses in a three-story building – storefronts below apartments – at the southeast corner of 30th and Troost, across the street from the Continental Bakery.

The southeast corner of 30th and Troost in 1940.
One address was 3001 Troost, the former site of the corner Parkview drugstore, which vacated during the war. A later location, 1107 East 30th, had been headquarters of the Fourth Ward Democratic Club, occasionally raided by police for gambling. The matchbook address aligns with the late 40s/early 50s tavern location. 

The Tick Tock had a series of owners over its existence. In 1952 the documented owner was Joe Caruso, an alias for Pete Carolla, an ex-con and brother of Johnny Lazias former right-hand man, Charles Carollo. That year a man died after suffering a fractured skull in a fight that originated in the tavern and ended in the street.

A 1951 ad.
But the Tick Tocks biggest claim to infamy came at the 1107 address on Christmas night 1959. A divorced, unemployed salesman named Charles Burkholder was sitting at the bar drinking a beer when two well-dressed men took seats next to him. Both wore polka-dot bowties. One told the waitress to ignore a ringing pay phone on the wall, then they both stood up and pulled .45’s. One said to Burkholder: 

“All right, start begging.”  Then he shot him in the stomach. Burkholder died at the hospital. 

The two men ordered witnesses to lie on the floor, then fled. Witnesses began receiving threatening phone calls. Two years later police arrested a man thought to have been a member of a tough neighborhood gang, members of which wore signature black polka-dot ties. He was released for lack of evidence and the case was never solved. 

The Tick Tock closed in the mid-60s. The building no longer exists.

Scene of the crime, front page of the Kansas City Star, December 26, 1959. 

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Matchless city: A night at the Ambassador

The former Ambassador Hotel, remade as the Ambassador Apartments, 3560 Broadway.
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From a collection of hundreds of American matchbook covers dating to the late 1940s, I’ve culled a number of examples from Kansas City to present here. They offer a tiny sliver of that midcentury town as it was about to turn 100 years old in 1950. 

This grouping of three matchbooks suggests a night out for a guest at the Ambassador Hotel …

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On this visit to KC you’re staying away from the downtown hustle, out in the leafy-boulevard-and-gracious-home neighborhood of Hyde Park. Let’s say it’s 1947, maybe September, and you’ve checked in the Ambassador Hotel, 3560 Broadway. 

A 1925 ad.
When it opened in 1925 the Ambassador was the largest apartment hotel in the city, eight floors with retail shops, a library, a roof garden with a dance floor, 105 apartments for permanent residents and 108 rooms for transient guests. The work of architect Nelle Peters, designer of several hotels and apartments in the south part of town, the Ambassador was the choice of visitors including author Sinclair Lewis and actress Ethel Barrymore.

The matchbook in your room's ashtray  promotes the “new” Walnut Room restaurant, open since July 10, 1947. It’s a new name on a makeover of the original restaurant (not to be confused with the Walnut Room at the Hotel President downtown). 

Before dinner, perhaps a cocktail in the hotel’s El Bolero lounge? It’s been open since the early 1930s, and for a time was run by Sam Morris, brother of jazz-club owner Milton Morris. 

By 1953 The Colony Restaurant and Lounge will have replaced the Walnut Room and El Bolero, and eventually will become the early showcase for singer Marilyn Maye. (Today the former hotel is known as the Ambassador Apartments.)

A 1953 ad.

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A 1926 ad.
Prefer to get out of the hotel for dinner and entertainment? You have options just across Broadway. One is in another lovely apartment hotel, the nine-story Hyde Park at the corner of 36thstreet, for years known as the city’s swankest. Before his death in 1943,  Joe Shannon, former Democratic congressman and political rival of Boss Tom Pendergast, made his home in the hotel.

Pusateri’s is the second location for a restaurant run by brothers who made their name during Prohibition serving bootleg liquor and choice steaks. After oldest brother, Tony, died in a 1931 car crash, and Gus served jail time in 1933 for violating the Volstead Act, Gus and Jim opened Pusateri’s on Baltimore near 12th. Having run perhaps the best-known speakeasy in town, the brothers had no trouble keeping the place packed, even after several moves to other locations on Baltimore.

A 1944 ad.
In 1947, this Hyde Park Pusateri’s has been operating since the end of 1944, in space once occupied by the hotel’s Empire Room restaurant and Jubilee cocktail lounge. It will last just until June 1948, when the Pusateri brothers sell out to Joe Maciel, the popular manager of Fred Harvey’s Westport Room in Union Station. In turn, Maciel will quit the space after about a year and return to the Westport Room for the rest of his career.

A 1950 ad.
In 1950 the brothers will move back into the Hyde Park hotel with a new concept, Pusateri’s Prime Rib, run by their friend Johnny “Franklin” Enfranca. Eventually known as just The Prime Rib, that restaurant will thrive in this location through the 1960s. 

The hotel will close in 1977. (Today it is senior housing known as the Hyde Park Apartments.)

Pusatueri's in the Hyde Park Hotel, 1947. At extreme left is the Club Interlude.

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Your other nearest possibility is right next door at the Club Interlude, 3545 Broadway. This place originated down the street in 1930 as Silcott’s restaurant. In 1941, Loren Silcott moved his business to this address, then shot himself dead in a hotel room. His brother Leo carried on, reopening in 1942, adding the Interlude name and boogie-woogie piano music, and then selling out two years later. 

A 1947 ad.
Under new owners it was sometimes called the Broadway Interlude or the Uptown Interlude or just Interlude. 

Another ownership change came in March 1947. Dale and Charley Overfelt also appear to be comfortable with the many variations on their club’s name. (A favorite longtime performer here is Joshua Johnson, boogie-woogie pianist.)

A 1947 ad.
In the early 1950s damage from a couple of nearby explosions will lead Dale Overfelt (Charley will leave to become an accountant) to move the Interlude a few doors south to 3611 Broadway. There it will remain until the mid ’60s, when it becomes a go-go club called the Playgirl Lounge. (Today a yoga studio occupies the original site of the Interlude.)

Here’s a taste of Joshua Johnson on piano:

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Matchless city: The neighborhood grocer

The former La Isla food market, 24th and Jarboe, in 2019
From a collection of hundreds of American matchbook covers dating to the late 1940s, I’ve culled a number of examples from Kansas City to present here. They offer a tiny sliver of that midcentury town as it was about to turn 100 years old in 1950. 

This grouping of five matchbooks recalls the neighborhood grocery store …

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Despite a major typo – the store’s name was La Isla – somehow this bit of advertising for “La Tsla” was considered good enough. It’s hard not to imagine the matchbook producer’s possible indifference toward a business catering to Mexican immigrants in the 1940s. 

In the 1930s Jesus Antonio “Jesse” Vasquez, La Isla’s proprietor, had operated a Mexican sweet shop on 24thstreet near Holly, around the corner from his little house. It was a busy street of drugstores, restaurants, pool halls and shops in the heart of what was called the Mexican colony. As a grocery at the corner of 24thand Jarboe, La Isla dated to 1940. 

La Isla food market in 1940
Vasquez, born in 1895 in Brownsville, Texas, arrived on 24thstreet about 1919. For a time he was a barber and also ran an upholstery shop. In the ‘40s he was president of the Mexican Cultural Union’s corporate entity when it purchased the three-story building at 23rdand Summit as a community center. 

A 1954 Christmastime ad
Vasquez retired from the grocery in 1969. He died 10 years later.

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 Across town, near the corner of 12thand Cleveland, the B&H Super Market for years was the flagship of a half-dozen B&H stores on the east side. Founded at that location in the early 1920s, it was the namesake of (Nathan) Baraban and (Herman) Hershman, Russian-Jewish immigrant cousins. They grew the business to four stores by 1934, the year the cousins dissolved their partnership and divided their common assets, including the markets, a pharmacy, a beer wholesaler, and a company that made grocery refrigerators. 

A 1947 ad

The B&H flagship store at 12th and Cleveland in 1940

Baraban moved on with the refrigeration company and Hershman took over the markets (adding a wholesale supplier that eventually became Isis Foods). He sold the B&H markets in 1944, and a subsequent owner kept the name and remade them as “super” markets, following a popular trend.  

All but the original flagship were sold off in 1949, but the B&H name survived until the early 1960s. The original building no longer exists.

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Roselli’s Food Terminals traced their origin to a grocery founded at the turn of the 20thcentury by an Italian immigrant musician named Orazio Roselli. 

He and his wife had been teaching music when he opened his store at 12thand Washington, near Quality Hill. His son Joseph began clerking at the grocery when he was 10, and when Orazio died in 1915, Joseph took over. 

The store moved first to 14thand Walnut downtown, then south to 29thand Troost. When Joe left for the wholesale foods industry, his sons George and John ran the grocery. 

Roselli's in 1940
In 1937 they opened Roselli’s Food Market at 3300 Troost. While they served in World War II, Joe ran the grocery. He died in 1945 as the war was ending, and upon returning home the brothers changed the name to Roselli’s Food Terminal and opened a second location at 22ndand Elmwood, which then moved to 39th and Terrace (a building that survives today).

Only the Troost location remained in 1949, two years after the Roselli brothers incorporated and opened Roselli’s restaurant downtown on Walnut. That fall the grocery closed, and the restaurant became the sole focus of Roselli Inc.

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The oldest grocery in this grouping belonged to George Muehlbach & Sons, begun by Swiss immigrant George in 1874. (He was a nephew of the Muehlebachs who spelled their name with an extra E, and who were known for their brewery, and later their hotel, ballpark and baseball team, the Blues.)

George Muehlbach
The first Muehlbach grocery was at 17thand Holmes, then on the south edge of town, in the days before refrigerated railroad cars brought fresh produce from afar. Instead, he stocked canned goods, bulk grains, green coffee beans, dried fruit and such.

A 1929 ad
The store later moved south to Troost and George’s sons Roy and Frank joined the family business. In 1923 Roy took on management of a new second store near 55thand Oak, in the Crestwood shops. In 1932, the Troost store moved to the Country Club Plaza, run by Frank. Home delivery was a Muehlbach’s specialty. 

A 1933 ad

George Muehlbach died in 1945, but in 1949 the brothers opened a third store in the Romanelli shops at Gregory and Wornall. Then a fourth, in Prairie Village, in 1951. The original Plaza store on Broadway moved to Nichols Road in 1961, closed in 1979 and reopened at 48thand Jefferson in 1981, the same year the Crestwood store closed for good. The Plaza store closed in 1994. Today the Crestwood location houses the George boutique shop; the original Plaza Muehlbach site is now Hallmark’s HMK store.

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The Market Basket, in a cluster of shops at the corner of 82ndand Troost, opened in March 1946. There had been a first Market Basket at 35thand Troost, which remained open awhile, but this was a super market in the latest sense – spacious and modern with a dedicated parking lot.

The Market Basket had been conceived in 1944, during World War II, as part of a huge new development of apartments on 37 acres at 83rdand Troost, then outside the city limits. 

Named President Gardens, the complex was planned as housing for workers at the Pratt & Whitney airplane engine plant a mile south, at the end of the Brookside/Dodson streetcar line. The war had ended by the time the first of more than 400 apartments opened in August 1945. 

The city limits were soon extended south, the Pratt & Whitney plant became the Westinghouse-Bendix plant (jet engines and atomic bomb parts) and the area grew into a suburban enclave. 

In 1954 the Market Basket became a part of the Thriftway chain, and remained such into the 1990s. Today it’s a Family Dollar store.

The former Market Basket at 82nd and Troost

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