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Ninth Street businesses like the Gem Pharmacy, Children's Drug, the Elite Barber Shop, People's Undertaking, the Vincennes Hotel, dentist Dr. Charles Hill, the Gypsy Tea Room, and others filled the African American community's everyday needs. But Dreamland Ballroom, on the third floor of the Taborian Hall at Ninth and State streets, fed the spirit, with the music of “Fatha” Earl Hines, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Louis Jordan, and later Ray Charles and B.B. King, to name just a few of the famed musicians who played there.
Dreamland fell silent in 1970 as did neighboring businesses. But the music was back last month, when contemporary acts played a benefit concert to help in the restoration of the ballroom by Taborian Hall owner Kerry McCoy.
McCoy renovated Taborian Hall in 1991 for her business, Arkansas Flag and Banner. She's completed the first and second floor, and has now turned her attention to a $1.2 million project to renovate the 8,000-square-foot ballroom, with its peach-painted balcony and box seats and stage, as an events center.
Architectural and engineering drawings are done, but, McCoy laughed, her timing on getting a loan — in the midst of today's banking crisis — has been off. But, she said, “I ain't giving up yet. I get e-mail every week from someone wanting to rent it.” She hopes to have it open by this time next year.
Taborian Hall, like the Mosaic Templars building, was built to house an insurance company run by a black fraternity, the Knights and Daughters of the Tabor. It opened in 1918, and like the Mosaic Templars building, housed a pharmacy, along with doctors' offices and the Ritz Beer Garden. During World War II, it housed the black USO club. It was built as an addition to a 19th century building that faced State Street.
McCoy has been working with a freelance historian to compile information and artifacts that tell the story of Taborian Hall. “The focus of our building,” McCoy said, “is going to be just the things that happened in the building, the great acts that played here.” The Mosaic Templars will offer the rest of the picture of Ninth Street.