An ill-fated but historic restaurant home goes up for auction

I’ve forgotten how many ill-fated restaurants have come and gone in the interesting two-story building at the corner of 28th Street and Southwest Boulevard.

The best-known was probably the El Patio Restaurant, operated by legendary restaurateur Jose “Don Pepe” Hernandez for two years, until 2002.

Other than its recent past as a home for doomed restaurants, the building has a rich history. In the early 20th century, it was a saloon operated by a Kansas City policeman named Noah Beery, who had three sons: William, Wallace (who was so fat that his friends called him “Jumbo”) and Noah.

All three of the Beery boys later went into show business. Wallace ran off to join the circus at age 16 and later became a chorus boy on Broadway. A straight chorus boy, he liked to point out: “There weren’t no lace on my cuffs!”

That didn’t stop Beery from dressing in drag for a series of silent films in which he played a Swedish maid named “Sweedie.” He was briefly married to actress Gloria Swanson. (Her wedding-night memories suggest that Wallace was a really lousy lover; she later divorced him.) By the 1930s, he had became one of the biggest movie stars at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he was frequently teamed with another Kansas City native, Jean Harlow.

That isn’t the only entertainment connection for the building at 2801 Southwest Boulevard. I’ve long heard rumors that in the 1920s and ’30s, its second floor was a lively brothel.

After a long time sitting vacant, the building is scheduled to be auctioned off on Friday, August 22, by the Bill Fair & Company of Lecompton, Kansas.

“It was owned by a businessman who is getting divorced,” Bill Fair says. “The court ordered it to be sold off and the proceeds divided between the husband and wife. The auction starts at 10 a.m., and the building is sold to the highest bidder who puts $10,000 down that day and closes in 20 days.”

The building looks to be in worse shape than it is. The neon “Restaurant” sign caught fire last year and did some damage to the exterior and part of the interior. But it’s still standing and, as a piece of local history, might yet make an ideal place for a saloon, restaurant — or brothel.

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