Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Stork Club

The former Stork Club, "for lease" a year after it closed.
Had such a great time at the 2012 Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival, talking about nightclubs of the Pendergast era, that we ran out of time before we got to some of the good stuff. So this week, with the help of the 1940 tax photos, I'll be posting the best of what's on the cutting room floor. 

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When he died in 1978, Salvatore "Tudie" Lusco's obituary highlighted the fact that he had been the proprietor of a restaurant at the corner of 31st and Holmes, The Majestic Steak House. The obit mentioned that The Majestic had been popular with players from the Kansas City Athletics and other teams, and that Tudie Lusco had therein entertained such baseball luminaries as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.

The story also said that Lusco had been in the business since 1930 and involved with numerous clubs and restaurants over the years, including the Casa Fiesta, the Club Royale, the Wayside Manor, and a place identified as "the Vanity Fair at 17th and Baltimore." Obituaries tend to be selective with the facts of the lives they are summarizing.

As the Vanity Fair the club had been a spacious haven for jazz groups too large for the smaller clubs in town, bands such as Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy. One story, recounted in Ross Russell's book Jazz Style in Kansas City and the Southwest, told of the Clouds returning to Kansas City in 1933 from a tough road trip on which they found hard times for touring bands. Kirk remembered:

"When we got back home, there was no Depression. The town was jumping! We got back Friday night and the following Monday went into the Vanity Fair night club, a plush spot right in the center of town, and did good business."

One fact omitted from Tudie Lusco's life story: the club at 1706 Baltimore had a succession of names – the Paramount Club, the Eighty-Five Club and the Stork Club. 

Another omission: Tudie Lusco had been the brother of Joe Lusco, a one-time rival of Pendergast henchman Johnny Lazia. Joe Lusco, the owner of the infamous Dante's Inferno night club, had once harbored Pretty Boy Floyd in rooms above his Lusco-Noto flower shop on Independence Avenue. It was a hideout whence Floyd shot his way out during a raid by Prohibition agents, killing one of them. Joe Lusco, himself, was victim of an attempted shotgun assassination late one night in front of his home on Olive Street. He survived after he was rushed to the hospital by his brothers James and Tudie.

Joe Lusco was crippled in the shooting but kept Dante's Inferno, even moving it from Independence Avenue to East 12th Street, next to the new police headquarters. He also maintained an interest in the Stork Club, with his little brother Tudie. 

In 1939 the Stork Club ran afoul of Missouri Governor Lloyd Stark, who had begun a crackdown on the wide-open nightlife in Kansas City. After having been cited earlier for illegal gambling, the club was one of several closed down for liquor law violations.

The former Stork club in 2012.

Before its life as a Pendergast-era night club, the building at 1706 Baltimore had been home to United Artists, in keeping with other film-related businesses in the neighborhood. Today the former club has corporate owners, but its practical use appears dormant. 

It looks like an excellent candidate for a Crossroads District retro-makeover, something in line with its Paris-of-the-Plains pedigree.

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Listen to Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy:

1 comment:

  1. Tudie Lusco is one of my uncles. My great aunt Rose "Lusco" Barba is still with us, at 97, in KC. We shared stories last Summer when I was in KC shepherding my son to K State for his freshman year. I have some amazing photos from the era, & I am currently scanning & archiving them to share with family.