Thursday, August 31, 2017

Prohibition project: Grand Avenue Temple

Continuing the series on the Prohibition era in Kansas City, 1920 to 1933, about surviving buildings and other structures with stories to tell about moonshine, bootlegging, speakeasies, "wets" and "drys," and associated events, activities and personalities.

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Grand Avenue Temple, a Methodist church near the corner of Ninth and Grand, looks good for its age. The ionic columns and arched windows, lashed by weather and time, stand straight and tall as they did in 1912, when the building was dedicated. And except for a few details, like the small air conditioner protruding from a stained-glass window, it probably looks much as it did in 1924, when Ira M. Hargett was pastor.

“The wolves of greed, vice and sensuality infest our fair city, lying in wait to prey upon the innocent,” Hargett declared from the pulpit here in late November that year. He had come to Kansas City from Wisconsin a year earlier and soon was broadcasting Sunday night sermons nationally (the new medium of radio, he said, was God’s work) over WOQ, a station owned by the Unity School of Christianity. That November night he praised Kansas City for its beautiful boulevards, residential neighborhoods, schools and industries, but said the city
bears the stigma of vice and crime. Bootleggers, robbers, thieves, murderers, prostitutes, drug fiends and narcotic peddlers prey upon an almost helpless populace. There is, too, the hypocrite who uses the guise of church affiliation to conceal underhand dealings.
The Reverend I.M. Hargett
Hargett, a defender of the Ku Klux Klan and president of the local Society for Suppression of Commercialized Vice, a watchdog group of moral reformers, was just perhaps the loudest of several religious leaders decrying liquor traffic and the city’s many varieties of vice. He imagined a special place in hell for the police. “Gambling of all kinds is rampant,” he said in 1926. “I know of places where dice games, card games and policy games flourish without police interference. But why should I go to the police and lead them to these places? They already know about them.”

An ad for a 1927 sermon by Rev. Hargett.

Hargett left town in 1929 for a position in Tulsa, came back in 1932 as pastor of the Linwood Boulevard Methodist Church, then returned to Oklahoma in 1936. Before leaving Grand Avenue Temple he warned against repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.

"The devil will declare a holiday and decorate hell," he said, "and the angels will put on mourning if Prohibition fails in America."
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