Kansas City firefighters battled an early morning blaze Thursday in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District, but city officials were confident the facades of the burned buildings could be saved.
A woman who was inside one of the buildings was hurt and taken to the hospital. She reportedly was trying to warm herself when the building caught fire.
Firefighters were called shortly before 5 a.m. to the buildings owned by Kansas City on the west side of Vine Street between 18th and 19th streets.
The blaze started in the former Security Loan and Investment Association building at 1814-1816 Vine St. It later spread to the former Roberts building, 1820 Vine, which is next to what remains of the Eblon Theater at 1822 Vine. All three buildings date back to the 1920s, but they had been vacant for years.
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It was a dramatic fire, but the damage was not catastrophic, said city spokesman Chris Hernandez.
“The buildings will be boarded up by the end of the day,” Hernandez said, adding that inspectors had determined the facades could still be salvaged and preserved.
Firefighters fought the blaze in a defensive mode, spraying water from aerial trucks onto the fire. It was too dangerous for firefighters to fight the flames from the inside.
Kansas City had just completed the purchase of the buildings last Friday from the Jazz District Redevelopment Corp. It purchased the buildings for about $500,000, as part of a larger, $7 million investment to bolster the Jazz District’s residential and commercial prospects.
Councilman Jermaine Reed, who lives near the scene and represents the council district that includes 18th and Vine, said it was an unfortunate incident, but that preservation and redevelopment are the goal.
“It’s devastating, but we’ll keep working hard to preserve an authentic piece of our history,” Reed said.
The city hopes the block can be revitalized with new residential and commercial spaces.
The city is currently seeking redevelopment proposals for the block, which are due Feb. 10. City Manager Troy Schulte said the fire will not change that request, although the city will have to clean up the debris from the fire before a developer would take over.
Schulte said the city had worked for the past two months to stabilize the leaning brick walls of the Security Loan building, and that work probably helped keep the fire from completely destroying the building. He said the interior will have to be gutted now, but he was confident the facades of both buildings could be reused.
According to Reed, the Security Loan and Investment Association Building was built in the 1920s as a two-story brick structure that served as a building and loan for black residents. Reed said the Roberts building was featured in director Robert Altman’s 1996 movie “Kansas City.”
The Eblon Theater opened in 1923 as a venue for vaudeville and motion pictures, and Count Basie was the house organist for silent films. The building, however, fell into disrepair. In 1984, a two-alarm fire damaged it. The theater was largely razed, leaving behind the main facade, braced from behind. Schulte said what remains of the Eblon Theater was not damaged.