If Walls Could Talk: The Flag and Banner/Taborian Hall Building
Standing impressively at the corner of 9th and State streets for more than a century, the Taborian Hall building is a historic reminder of the time when Little Rock had a thriving Black business district called Blissville. The stately three-story building was the home of African American social group, the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, and on its third floor was a spacious dance and music hall called the Dreamland Ballroom.
Dreamland stopped hosting events more than five decades ago, but the hall’s current owner, Kerry McCoy, hopes to bring it back to life by fall 2023 to become a home to weddings, dance events and concerts again. Working on the project since 2009, Kerry McCoy is building upon her extensive renovations of the hall’s bottom two floors, which now house her multi-business empire, Kerry McCoy Enterprises.
McCoy’s primary business is Arkansas Flag and Banner, which has been selling flags of all stripes to customers worldwide since its inception in 1975. Also located in the building are OurCornerMarket.com and the offices where McCoy works with her husband and three of her four children as she plans her weekly radio show “Up in Your Business” (airing on KABF 88.3 FM and KDXE 101.1 FM) and her bi-annual publication Brave magazine.
But with the ballroom being her ultimate restoration goal, McCoy has entrusted her son, Matthew McCoy, as the executive director of the Dreamland Foundation, which raises the funds for and oversees the construction involved. The project is so impressive that the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service awarded it a $499,608 African American Civil Rights Preservation Grant in 2018, and another grant of $499,723 to complete ADA compliance.
Among the new touches that the Foundation has added is a whole new roof, since the hall’s roof was completely rotted, and an impressive restoration of the ballroom floor itself. The Foundation also used the grants for pest eradication and prevention and to build a modern elevator in an adjoining structure in order to meet ADA standards, plus a new HVAC system and restored windows.
“The Knights of Tabor, the Knights of Pytheas and the Mosaic Templars were all Black fraternal organizations that cropped up during the post-Civil War Reconstruction,” Matthew McCoy said. “They were private clubs, and the difference between them and the Masons was that they primarily functioned as mutual aid organizations – you’d pay dues unto them, and you’d usually get something out of it such as insurance, welfare help or funeral plot planning.
“They were really instrumental in providing and organizing community for the Black newly freed slaves in the South, starting in the 1860s and 1870s. This [building] was founded as the Taborian Temple in 1918 and is just one of two buildings left from the four-block Black business district that drew rural Black folks to live there, because Little Rock was the most progressive place in the state. The Temple was renamed Taborian Hall in 1954.”
Blissville started because Union soldiers gathered the new Black community into its own neighborhood due to segregation. It began as a shack and tent community, but the Taborians and similar social groups helped organize people and money to quickly build it into a brick-and-mortar community that began at 9th and Broadway and extended eastward for several blocks.
Kerry McCoy bought Taborian Hall in 1990, due to her love of old buildings and her ambitious desire to have an expansive base for her businesses. While she managed to upgrade the first two floors rather quickly, the lengthy process involved in fixing Dreamland has stemmed from her inability to get private business loans, since she’s primarily restoring a historic space to its original entertainment uses, and not turning it into condos or a restaurant.
Her determination is admirable, for the Taborian Hall served as the Negro Soldiers Club after WWI for Black soldiers stationed at Fort Pike and became a USO Club for Black soldiers during World War II. It played host to countless Black singers and musicians, including Big Joe Turner, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, B.B. King, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, in its three nightclubs. Even after hosting a concert by the legendary Ray Charles in the late 1960s, Dreamland lost its grandeur by 1970, as Black clubs and businesses moved away from the district and were established throughout other parts of the city.
An additional challenge for Kerry McCoy was maintaining her businesses while contending with the pronounced clatter of construction, and the construction crews found themselves dodging all manner of falling debris. Her need to maintain the building’s historical attributes has been furthered by the fact the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
All of these impressive efforts are par for the course for Kerry McCoy, who started Arkansas Flag and Banner at 20 years old, after becoming dissatisfied with the Dallas-based Betsy Ross Flag Company she worked for and desiring to move home. Believing she could do the business better, Kerry McCoy launched Arkansas Flag and Banner and has been adding to her empire over the past 47 years.
Aside from running the Little Rock home base, Kerry McCoy has another branch of the flag company in Miami, now rechristened Florida Flag and Banner, where a team of seamstresses work on some of the flags. Most orders are fulfilled by reselling other companies’ flags through their website, flagandbanner.com, which Kerry McCoy had the vision to create at the dawn of the Internet in the mid-1990s.
The COVID pandemic provided yet another pathway to success, as Kerry McCoy acquired numerous smaller, mom-and-pop flag stores around the country that were having to close in order to gain access to their client lists.
“I see opportunities and they drive me crazy, because there’s so many of them out there,” said Kerry McCoy. “And when you own your own business, you’re in control. You don’t want to work for other people. I’m so glad I found a good home for all of it in Taborian Hall.”
For more information on how to help with or donate to Friends of Dreamland, visit dreamlandballroom.org.