18th and Vine District – Kansas City’s wild past

Center map

It was the roaring ‘20s, and 18th and Vine was the center of the black community at the time. The stage at the Panama Club was their showcase. It was also the beginning of Mayor Tom Pendergast’s political era, with the lax enforcement of liquor, gambling, and prostitution laws making Kansas City a “wide open” town. 18th and Vine was jumping.

Today, you find the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Jazz Museum, the Gem Theater and the Blue Note, and more – you might notice the old storefronts and signs – remnants from the 1990 Robert Altman film, “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.”

18th and Vine
Kansas City, MO

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum


The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990 by a group of former Negro Leagues baseball players, including Kansas City Monarchs outfielder Alfred Surratt, Buck O’Neil, and Horace Peterson.

The walls are lined with pictures of players, owners, and officials from the Negro League of 1920 through the Negro American League, which lasted until 1960. By far the most impressive aspect of the museum, however, is the Field of Legends. You can walk onto a field filled with nearly life-sized bronze statues of twelve figures from Negro league history.

1616 East 18th Street
Kansas City, MO
(816) 221-1920

American Jazz Museum

American Jazz Museum

At its height in the ‘30s, Kansas City had more than 200 jazz clubs. Music could be heard at all hours of the day and night. It was one giant jazz party. This is the only museum devoted solely to this truly American art form.

Kansas City’s jazz heydays of the 1930s included Walter Page’s Blue Devils and Benny Moten’s BB and D band. Benny’s band was quickly noticed by record producers and eventually got a recording contract, along with a newcomer in the band named Count Basie. Kansas City-style jazz was soon introduced to the world. Among the other jazz greats to come out of our city were Big Joe Turner, Charlie “Bird” Parker, and L.C. “Speedy” Huggins.

1616 East 18th Street
Kansas City, MO
(816) 474-8463

Giant Head of Charlie Parker

Giant Head of Charlie Parker

Jazz great tribute | Visible from the street

“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

The words and influence of Charlie “Bird” Parker have echoed through generations of musicians. The legendary saxophonist’s electrifying sound took the jazz world by storm in the 1940s and carried on until his death in 1955. Bird’s musical ideas and instrumental prowess provided the foundation for the sound that became known as “bebop.”

17th Terrace and the Paseo
Kansas City, MO

The Blue Room

The Blue Room

Night club, Live music, Jazz

This dimly lit and yes – blue – spot is the place to experience the best in local and international jazz. The ghost of Charlie Parker still remains at the Blue Room. The walls are covered with photos from the history of KC Jazz legends, and the hollow glass tabletops hold a collection of commemorative pieces, that include pictures, instruments and records from the 1920s and 1930s. A must stop for all jazz lovers.

1616 E 18th St
Kansas City, MO
(816) 474-2929

Gem Theater

The Gem Theater

Live Music

Originally named the Star Theater, the Gem was built in 1912 as a silent movie palace to serve Kansas City’s African American population.

Renamed the Gem in 1913, the theater featured second-run westerns and action adventures – no live theater, vaudeville or jazz bands, just the “Pick of the Pictures, Properly Presented.”

In 1923, it under went a major renovation, taking it from a one-story with a stucco front to a two-story landmark with a baroque-style, white terra cotta front and a balcony. With its ornate facade, the Kansas City Call proclaimed the Gem as a “work of art and triumph of engineering.” By the time motion pictures started talking in 1929, it had become an established fixture on 18th Street. Admission was ten cents.

Fast forward to 1990, when the Gem was restored into a state-of-the-art, 500 seat performance venue. It now hosts the American Jazz Museum’s annual national jazz concert series.

1615 E 18th St
Kansas City, MO
(816) 474-6262

Mutual Musicians Foundation

Mutual Musicians Foundation

Live music, Jazz

One of Kansas City’s best kept secrets! Jazz has been played continuously here since 1930 when Local 627 moved into the building, making it the longest running jazz spot in the United States and in the world.

Sure, going for a traditional show is great – but if you really want a true taste of KC Jazz – show up between 1 am and 5 am on any Saturday or Sunday for the impromptu jam session. Musicians from all over the city show up after their regular gigs to kick back and play. They have food as well as a full bar!

The Foundation bred numerous nationally renowned bands and a legion of talented soloists who revolutionized American jazz, including such luminaries as Count Basie, Jay McShann, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Andy Kirk, Jimmy Rushing, Big Joe Turner, Hot Lips Page, Mary Lou Williams, and Buck Clayton…you can still feel their presence when you walk in.

These musicians belonged to Local 627 of the American Federation of Musicians. Established in 1917, Local 627, then known as the “Colored Musicians Union,” operated as a social center and as a way to air grievances against unfair practices by booking agents and band leaders.

It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981 as “a site possessing national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America.”

(parts of this story come from their website.)

1823 Highland Avenue
Kansas City, MO
(816) 471-5212