NEW ORLEANS—NEW ORLEANS (AP) - In the early years of the 20th century, jazz was king, far from ready to relinquish its throne to big bands and swing.
The homegrown sound could be heard in a smattering of intimate downtown halls, around open-air bandstands out on the lakefront - and at one notable stopping point in between.
On any given Sunday evening, crowds flocked to the Halfway House, a roadhouse on the bank of the New Basin Canal at City Park Avenue.
So-called hot jazz arrangements, such as Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and Leo Friedman's "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," spilled out from open windows. Young adults hopped off streetcars, stepped inside and danced on terrazzo tile in the long, narrow wood building.
The performance hall took its name from its location in the still-developing Mid-City neighborhood, a midway point of sorts between the downtown jazz clubs and the bandstands of the West End and Milneburg amusement parks.
But that was another time.
Only a handful of the buildings that housed downtown jazz halls survive. The lakefront boardwalks and amusement parks are long gone, along with the New Basin Canal, filled in more than a half-century ago to serve as the pathway for the Pontchartrain Expressway. The Halfway House jazz club and dance hall in the 1920s.
Somehow, the old Halfway House building endured - barely - as the city crowded in around it and cars whizzed by.
While for most New Orleanians a piece of jazz history hid in plain sight for close to a century, it continued to stir the imagination of one group of local jazz aficionados. Now the group is making a bid to give the decrepit building new life.
For nearly eight years, the New Orleans Jazz Restoration Society has been in negotiations, first with the New Orleans Firemen's Charitable and Benevolent Association, which owns five and a half acres that includes the old roadhouse, and the Orleans Parish Communication District, the city's 911 call center, which holds a long-term lease on the land.
While not as prominent as some other structures tied to local jazz history, the building, jazz preservationists argue, is too much a part of the fabric of New Orleans to lose.
For years, talk of a city-sanctioned demolition of the building and then a fire worried jazz fans as the hall sat unoccupied. Then, three years ago, the OPCD sought proposals to redevelop the building.
"We came to them like a bat out of hell," said Bobby McIntyre, president of the Jazz Restoration Society and a jazz drummer.
The group envisions rehabbing the building and putting it back into commerce as a restaurant or reception hall - a place where they could display jazz memorabilia and revive a quaint venue for live music.
It will cost the Jazz Restoration Society about $250,000 to stabilize and provide a new roof, according to McIntyre. Another $1 million will be needed to fully restore the hall, in preparation for a tenant.
The group said it has the money for the first round of repairs and plans a drive to raise the $1 million.
The key snag in the talks has been parking spaces. Ideally, there should be at least 100, enough to sustain a bar or restaurant, said McIntyre and Bob Ice, vice president of the Jazz Restoration Society.
The OPCD, which had targeted the location for construction of a new headquarters, said this week it has ruled out an alternative proposal to move its headquarters to another Orleans Parish location.
Since the communication district is staying put, a new music venue will be limited to fewer than 50 parking spaces, according to McIntyre. Even so, Ice and McIntyre said they will figure out a way to make the venture work.