The U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service will award a $499,668 improvement grant to Dreamland Ballroom in the historic Taborian Hall building at Ninth and State streets, now the home of Little Rock Flag and Banner.
The ballroom, a booming place in the African-American business district back in the day, hosted such famed performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Earl “Fatha” Hines, B.B. King and Ray Charles. It was so dilapidated when Kerry McCoy bought the building in 1991 that it was on the verge of collapse. McCoy made it her mission to preserve the ballroom, which has its original paint and plaster and balconies on three sides, but she could not afford to cover the “astronomical” amount she would have had to borrow as a private person.
McCoy incorporated the Friends of Dreamland nonprofit in 2009 to apply for grant aid and has held a fundraiser, Dancing into Dreamland, every year since. The community support for the ballroom no doubt played a role in the awarding of the grant, which was also supported by Republican 2nd District Rep. French Hill.
The grant will allow the nonprofit to install heat and air for the first time, repair windows and expel the bats. The ballroom will get an elevator so that it is ADA accessible. The event space has been used for weddings despite its lack of air conditioning.
The grant is part of the NPS’ African American Civil Rights grants, which totaled $12 million for 41 projects in 24 states. The Little Rock School District was awarded $499,218 for a project titled “Preserving the History of Central High.”