The Joe Vaccaro Soda Water Mfg Building, now known as the Soda Lofts Condos, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, and then underwent an extensive, certified historic rehab. Joe Vaccaro originally built a one story building in 1921 to house his growing soda water manufacturing and bottling business. The next year he added the rest of the building, which included a reception hall on the second floor and a partial third story penthouse, where he planned to live with his wife. They lived in an apartment building next door (since demolished) and never finished out the penthouse, which was a pistol shooting range before the renovation of 2003. The penthouse now houses bedrooms for three different lofts.
The reception hall played an important role in the Italian community, which dominated the neighborhood at that time, hosting numerous wedding receptions and dances.
On June 14th, 1928, while Kansas City was hosting the Republican Convention that nominated Herbert Hoover, 5 or 6 bandits robbed the Home Trust company bank at 1119 Walnut. The vice president of the bank was in the basement and heard the disturbance (the bandits came in firing revolvers in the air) and seized a tear bomb pistol, mounted the steps and fired. The bandits split with a little over $19,000, and left more than $50,000 “within easy reach.” On their way out, from their getaway car, they shot traffic cop Happy Smith at his intersection at 11th and Walnut, in the chest at point blank range. Several other people were injured in the shoot-out, including another cop and another bystander died of a heart attack from the excitement.
Happy was a very popular guy and the cops made arrests rather quickly and, many believe, hastily. Five men were charged: the one who owned the car went to jail for life but was eventually granted a new trial and released; another went to jail for life but was transferred to an insane asylum, where he later died; another, Sam Stein, was never captured; and three men, all from the North End (Columbus Park), were tried and convicted and hung from gallows at the same time in the City Market (outside the jail) on July 25th, 1930. This photo was taken during their funeral procession on the following Monday, July 28th, 1930. The same plane that shot this photo released several white doves.
The three “Home Trust Bandits” who were hanged were:
John Messino, 564 Holmes, driver of the bandit car. The day before the hanging, he made a statement to a reporter that Maurice Nagle (the owner of the car, who was like his brother) had no knowledge of the crime when he loaned it to him.
Tony (“Lollipop”) Mangiaracina, 524 Forest Ave., a jokester and kind of the spokesperson for the condemned men.
Carl Nasello, 1048 East 5th Street
It was reported that the doomed men died gallantly. The headline read, “Lollipop urged his pals to smile on Death March” and Happy’s father, Ira Roney Smith, came to witness the execution with two of his other sons, Happy’s brothers, and was quoted as saying, “Justice has been done. They went out game.”
One of the first people I met in Columbus Park, after I bought what would become the Soda Lofts, was Teresa Corolla. She owned Sobetto’s Funeral Home across the street and had grown up in the apartment on the second floor above it. We became fast friends. She had a great memory and told me many stories about the neighborhood and my building. One day she told me, in disgust, “One night I saw a party in your building with men in dresses! Doctors and lawyers, yuck!” I researched and couldn’t find anything to corroborate, so I thought maybe it was a Halloween party or something.
In 2004, right after the first website for The Soda Lofts went online, I got a call from Dean, a gentleman in Phoenix. He told me he was 13 years old in 1967 and 5th Street in the North End was part of his paper route. He was delivering newspapers at 3:00 AM when he rode by and saw the cops busting up a drag party. He told me he’ll never forget the memory of those images of men with one high heel on, wig off-kilter, being thrown into a paddy wagon. I researched more and still couldn’t find anything, though I did hear from a guy who told me he saw a live sex show there in the 1970s.
About 10 years later, I read about some artists who found some old drag photos from Kansas City bars. I clicked on the link and the first image that showed up was taken in the Soda Lofts. I recognized the stage (which has been removed), the windows and the strange pink color. Clicking through the photos, I found more images of what was then known as LaSala’s Hall among the groups of intimate photos that had to have been photographed by someone who was trusted and likely part of that community. You can read about it at http://www.privatebirthdayparty.org/ and I believe there is a documentary about it in the making.
Back then, when it was illegal to dress in drag, they would hang a sign on the door that said “Closed for Private Birthday Party”.
LaSala’s Hall, December 1964