Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Matchless city: Recreation and clubs

The former Cocked Hat at 4451 Troost.
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Back in the day when tobacco smoke blanketed the land, it seemed every American business and organization advertised itself on books of matches. You found these matchbooks in bowls or ashtrays, on display cases and vending machines and hat-check counters, in drugstores, gas stations, bars and restaurants, etc. They were free to customers, who then carried the miniature promotional messages into the world, ready for the magic words: “Got a light?” From a collection of hundreds of American matchbook covers dating to the late 1940s, I’ve culled a number of Kansas City examples to present here. They offer a tiny sliver of that midcentury town just before its centennial in 1950. This is the first post in a series with changing themes.

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Bowling was big in 1949, and there were more than 40 bowling alleys and scores of bowling leagues, from the Retail Grocers League to the S&S Women’s Day League to the B’nai Brith League. Cocked Hat Recreation had been out on Troost since the late 1920s, part of a cluster of small storefronts – drugstore, market, gas station, cleaners, used cars, café – near the corner of 45th street. It included a tavern by the same name. But by late 1949 the name had changed to Rockhill Bowl. That name lasted into the 1970s.






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Built in 1927, and better known for its ballroom where well-known big bands of the era played for dancing, the spacious Pla-Mor complex on Main actually was a one-stop wonderland of recreation, including bowling. In 1949, the professional hockey team based there changed its name from the Pla-Mors to the Mohawks, and the
first game televised locally took place that November. The dancing ended in 1957, but the building saw brief use in the early 1970s as a rock concert venue, Freedom Palace. It was demolished in 1972.


An ad from late 1949.
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Then there was pool – (ahem) – billiards, also a well-established pastime, the longtime top parlor being Kling & Allen in the Hotel Dixon at 12thand Baltimore downtown. In 1949, champion player Bennie Allen was running the place,
Johnny Kling having died two years earlier. (Read more in this earlier post.) The pool hall was still hosting tournaments and exhibitions featuring the likes of Willie Mosconi. Allen died in 1953 and Kling & Allen closed in 1955. 








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The Blue Hills Club was at 61stand Wayne. It had been established in 1912 as a golf club, on the site of a former racetrack for autos and motorcycles. In 1952, when the nearby Swope Park municipal pool was closed pending litigation over whether the city could ban African-Americans, Blue Hills members voted to build their own pool and expand other club amenities. The new pool was dedicated in the spring of 1954, the same spring the Swope Park pool opened to all races for the first time. In 1962 members voted to move the club to a site near 120thand State Line, where it remains today. The old Blue Hills site is now the Citadel neighborhood and the Pener Plaza shopping center.





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The University Club was a men’s social club, established in 1900. It was among several “city” clubs (as opposed to “country” clubs) like the River Club and the Kansas City Club whose membership was heavy with businessmen and civic leaders. The 1949 headquarters, on Baltimore between 9thand 10th, had opened in the early 1920s. The club threw lavish New Year’s feasts and was perhaps best known for its annual comedy show, “Nitwits,” that usually spoofed city government (three performances, including one for a female audience). The University Club admitted its first Jewish member in 1972. In 2001 it merged with the Kansas City Club, which closed in 2015.

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