Lincoln building, African-American community, Lincoln Hall, 18th & Vine, Matlaw’s, Club Kaycee, NAACP, Danny’s Big Easy, Black Economic Union of Kansas City
Buildings like the Historic Lincoln Building are my favorite to research. It’s a quest – contradicting accounts and records require intense sleuthing to find the most accurate information. Now, it is unanimously certain that the Lincoln building opened in 1921. It specifically catered to Kansas City, Mo.’s African-American community in the days of segregation, when white-owned businesses downtown refused to serve them.
It is also agreed upon that the Lincoln’s second floor (of three in total) hosted a professional office array, doctors and lawyers and dentists and such, for the black population. The top floor housed quite the opposite of stuffy office space: Lincoln Hall, a hot spot for jazz bands and dancin’ fools, this is certain as well. It’s the first floor of the Lincoln, the grand entrance to the entire building, where things begin to garble. See, the Historic 18th & Vine organization says in 1921, the anchor floor was tenanted by the Lincoln Furniture Company. It cites its source from the University of Missouri at Kansas City (henceforth UMKC) Miller Nichols Library Archive.
But author Frank Driggs, of UMKC’s Marr Sound Archives, sings a different song. “The three-story red brick Lincoln Building, located at the southeast corner of 18th & Vine, opened in 1921. Matlaw’s, a men’s fine clothing store, anchored the building. Dobbs hats, gleaming high-top shoes with white stitching lining the soles, box-back coats, and crisp high-collar white shirts crowded the large rectangular windows on either side of the brightly lit entryway.”
A feature titled Club Kaycee from UMKC’s special collections confirms that Matlaw’s operated at 18th & Vine, though giving no address or naming the Lincoln Building outright.
I speculate Matlaw’s was the original occupant, though the Lincoln Furniture Company in the Lincoln Building does make sense. Then I found this photo:
This is Matlaw’s, indeed occupying the first floor of the Lincoln. Though perhaps it wasn’t the original tenant (or perhaps it was), we at least know the store was truly there at one time.
Regardless of these kinds of contradictions, the building heralded diversity in both clientele and business. It retained that diversity – though without the segregation – as a home to Danny’s Big Easy, “the Midwest Cajun restaurant,” until it closed in 2016 when the owner, Paul Danny Gosserand, plead guilty to charges of conspiracy cocaine distribution. It still maintains a myriad of businesses: a financial services firm, a tech company, a media group, barber, construction services, the Black Economic Union of Kansas City, an organization established in 1968, focused on urban redevelopment and community, plus many more. The Kansas City branch of the NAACP operates out of the Lincoln, a mainstay of the building for decades.
We shall not forget history, lest history forget us. The Lincoln Building “is a still-standing metaphor,” according the Historic 18th & Vine, “in regard to the type of self-sustaining community the segregated blacks of Kansas City had to facilitate for themselves.” Therein lies its most important historical facet.