Few people can remember “The Line” as it once was. During segregation, the part of Ninth Street west of Broadway was the cultural and economic hub of the Black American community in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Now, the street is populated by vacant lots and relatively new businesses. None of the original buildings remain – except for one.
The Taborian Hall at 800 West Ninth Street is renowned for the legendary performers that visited it. Work began on what was then known as the Taborian Temple in 1916. It was to be a three-story, red brick structure built in the Classical style. Local contractor Simeon Johnson constructed it for the Sons and Daughters of the Knights of Tabor, a black fraternal investment group. More than 1,500 of its members attended the grand opening in 1918.
The hall housed many black-owned clubs and businesses in those days. The first floor was an informal club for black soldiers stationed at Camp Joseph T. Robinson (then called Camp Pike). When World War II began, it became an official club for black officers, who were still segregated from their white counterparts.
The businesses at the Taborian Hall included the dental office of Doctor J.V. Jordan, the office of Doctor W.B. Black, the Gem Pharmacy, the Ritz Beer Garden, Binn’s Camera Club, and the Dreamland Grill. In the 1950’s, the Taborian Hall contained three clubs – Twin City Club, the Waiter’s Club, and Club Morocco, also known as the Dreamland Ballroom.
The most distinctive part of the hall was, and still is, the Dreamland Ballroom on its third floor. The architecture alone is ostentatious. Two-level balconies flank the stage, and there is a raised gallery in the back of the house. The stage is bordered with molded light fixtures. Its high ceilings were decorated with patterned tin tiles. The whole place is embellished with plaster moldings and wood carvings, and it is painted in bold colors.
The celebrated performers who graced that stage were even more impressive. Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, and Nat King Cole all entertained crowds at the ballroom. In addition, the Dreamland Ballroom was used for dances, social gatherings, and basketball games. Unfortunately, no party lasts forever.
By the 1970’s, black businesses and clubs had become more accepted throughout the city and began to move away from The Line. West Ninth Street became crime-ridden and was generally avoided by the affluent middle class that had once invested in it.
Although it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the Taborian Hall was abandoned and fell into disrepair. At some point, a fire erupted on the third floor and consumed part of the roof. The Dreamland Ballroom was left open to the elements, and the building became an unused monument to what had been. It remained empty until 1991. That is until one woman saw beauty in the decay and knew that what was once destroyed could be fully restored.