COLUMBIA — A group of people — some in evening gloves and Cloche hats, others in fedoras and suspenders — gathered outside of The Blue Note music venue. Alongside the list of upcoming shows to the left of the entrance was a plaque, but it was covered up by a black cloth.
"Thanks for walking down the street," Cornerstones of Columbia creator Brent Gardner said in his opening.
The Columbia Historic Preservation Commission and the Central Bank of Boone County co-sponsored the celebration, where the Cornerstones of Columbia plaque was unveiled, on Monday night. The event began at 10 Hitt St. outside of Uprise Bakery, Ragtag Cinema and Hitt Street Records — an area known as Hittsville — and ended at 17 N. Ninth St. in The Blue Note.
The commemorative plaques were made to remind visitors and passersby of what the buildings were more than eight decades ago: A time when Hittsville was a Coca-Cola Bottling Co. plant, and The Blue Note was known as Varsity Theater.
Mayor Brian Treece unveiled the plaques at both locations. Before he lifted the cloth, he shared the history of each venue with the crowd and then his hopes for the plaque: That as people wait in line at both venues — either for True/False Film Fest show tickets or down the alley waiting to get into a concert — they look at the plaques and think about what Columbia used to be like.
"If you can imagine what a busy, hustling bustling place that was," Treece said.
Gardner’s idea for the project came from his interest in the city’s history and how it has changed over the years, according to previous Missourian reporting. He said the plaque unveiling is meant to "try to bring to life the history of the buildings we walk by all the time."
Inside The Blue Note after the plaque's unveiling, the event featured a live performance from traditional jazz band The Gaslight Squares. A screen above the stage played classic film clips ranging from Marie Curie discovering mercury to people doing dance moves including the Lindy Hop and the Charleston.
Cocktails from the 1920s and 1930s were served, and people on the commission dressed in the era's style. The atmosphere was meant to replicate the time periods when the two buildings were built: Varsity Theater in 1927 and the Coca-Cola plant in 1935.
Richard King, The Blue Note's former owner, was honored to be part of the event and was even more grateful that the venue was one of the first to receive a plaque.
"Honestly, I’ll have to pinch myself," King said. "I'm really proud of what we’ve done in this building, and the longer I’m out of The Blue Note, the more I realize what we actually did for Columbia."
Local residents to Columbia who came out to celebrate also felt a sense of pride. Don Jourdan heard about the event on the radio and came out to support the history of the town he’s lived in for 45 years.
"It's good to put plaques where people can immerse and at least know about the history," Jourdan said. "They know it's historical, and if they can read about it, they come away with knowledge. That’s good, right?"
As the event came to a close, Amanda Staley Harrison watched as The Gaslight Squares finished up the set. As one of the members of the historic preservation commission, she decided to dress up as "Bernice."
"I'm kind of a nondescript 1935 Columbian," Staley Harrison said.
Staley Harrison said that the commission hopes to unveil more of these plaques throughout the years leading up to Columbia's bicentennial, which is a disputed date in between 2019 and 2020. The commission has not decided on the next locations for plaques, but they do have other events going on until a decision is made.
"We’re working on how we’re going to plan the bicentennial; that’s a huge project," Staley Harrison said. "Then we also do an annual salvage sale to raise funds for the commission. We’re trying to plan that out right now."
Supervising editor is Sky Chadde.