A brief history of 13440 Holmes Road kicks off our new series celebrating the structures and spaces recognized as the historic “building blocks” behind Martin City’s charm. On the northwest corner of Holmes and 135th Street, right across from Jack Stack Barbecue, you’ll find a landmark that has witnessed Martin City’s twists and turns for decades.
The Martin Event Space, as it’s currently known, has endured since the days when Martin City was still a “city,” or more accurately, an unincorporated town, long before it was annexed into Kansas City, Missouri in 1967. Age alone makes this building central to Martin City’s story, and what it’s been through also makes it a symbol of our community’s resilience.
The building first came to life as a Methodist Church in 1890 on land donated by Edward Martin, the local liquor king and inspiration behind our community’s name. In 1929, the church basement was completed and used as a community gathering place for town meetings.
The building went on to survive the Ruskin Heights Tornado that blew Martin City apart in 1957. Thirty people survived during a church supper in the basement as the sanctuary above was blowing away. When the sky cleared, the church was still standing, offering inspiration to rebuild when others may have been tempted to pack up and move on.
The building was repaired after the tornado damaged it, and the congregation met at the Martin City school while repairs were made. The church group remained until 1975, and then partnered with another congregation to build Red Bridge United Methodist Church at 117th and Holmes Road. The building was vacant for the next few years until the late 1970s, when Martin City restaurant pioneer R.C. Van Noy moved in.
“Turning an old church into a restaurant and bar was a very R.C. thing to do,” says Mike Van Noy, R.C.’s son and longtime owner of Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse.
“My dad already had several other restaurants going in Martin City but saw new possibilities in that old building.” In the late 1970s, Martin City was pretty much defined by Van Noy-owned restaurants and bars. Time had not been kind to our neighborhood and who knows what would have happened without R.C. Van Noy’s commitment.
“Not everyone liked my dad’s idea of making the old church building a destination for drinking. It raised some eyebrows,” says Mike Van Noy. “But that didn’t stop him. The next thing I knew he had me in there pulling out the solid oak pews.”
Mike was only 16 at the time but remembers very well all the remodeling he did. The church’s original structure and much of Mike’s handiwork can still be seen throughout the building today. “The building is amazing inside. I especially love the ceiling,” said Mike.
While Mike worked as a teenager to transform the old church building 40 years ago, his own life was suddenly transformed as well. “Debbie came up there to see about a job at one of our family’s restaurants and that’s where we met. We’ve been together ever since.”
“They were hiring me to bus tables at R.C.’s Restaurant,” adds Debbie Van Noy, Mike’s wife and General Manager of Jess & Jim’s. “I just happened to stop by the old church building that day to check in and our paths crossed. The rest is history.”
By 1980, the building had been reinvented as the Country Junction bar complete with a mechanical bull, mud wrestling upstairs, and a Mexican restaurant downstairs. Eventually, they started bringing in breakfast food from R.C.’s Restaurant to feed the Country Junction crowd when the bar closed at 3am.
“We noticed our customers were leaving for Grandview every night to get breakfast,” says Debbie. “So we started making breakfast to keep that business here in Martin City!”
“My dad was working us to death!” says Mike. “My brothers and I did all we could just trying to help him keep all of these businesses going. 12-hour workdays and really late nights were a way of life.”
The building hosted a rough ride through the 1980s with more than a few rowdy crowds and drunken fistfights along the way. The restaurant closed but the bar held on, changing names several times along the way. Then the Martin City Melodrama moved in and rented the space for the next 16 years. By the turn of the century, the old building was once again vacant.
In 2002, R.C. Van Noy passed away and left the building to his grandchildren so the search for a profitable purpose continued.
“The whole thing went to a flooring store owner for a while,” says Mike. “Just a few years ago, the property finally came back to my nephew, Matt.” Matt Moore is R.C.’s grandson. He’s credited with transforming several buildings in Martin City and is best known for his ownership of the Martin City Brewing Company.
The Martin City Brewing Company has been making a splash in Kansas City’s dining scene since they first opened their doors in 2011. The company added a Pizza + Tap Room in 2013 along with a microbrewery with canning and distribution operations next door. The Brewery is available for private events but is often booked months in advance. To accommodate demand, Moore knew he would need additional event space so in 2015, he went to work upgrading the old church building and created The Martin event space.
The renovated 3000 square foot ballroom now allows 200 guests to dance the night away on a dedicated dance floor, all while listening to music piped in through a professional concert level sound system.
“I think Matt recognized this space is special and it’s a great place for bigger celebrations,” says Kelly Lambert, The Martin’s Event Coordinator. “Through the years, it’s always been a place where people gathered and some of the original building materials, like the old church arches, give it a unique appeal. It’s got more character than many of the event spaces around town.”
The Martin has become a popular venue for corporate events, weddings, parties and all kinds of gatherings that benefit from a little extra atmosphere inside a building rich with small-town history. “You can turn this space into just about anything you want it to be. It’s really flexible,” says Lambert. “People planning parties often have their own ideas about themes and we really enjoy bringing those ideas to life.”
More than a century after 13440 Holmes Road first appeared on the landscape, it survives as a metaphor for Martin City’s determination to reinvent ourselves over and over again. Stories of celebration, success, failure and fate linger inside these walls and give texture to a community now on the rise after so many of us have refused to give up.
“I just think, after all of the recessions, wars and tornados, that building is still here. That’s really something,” says Mike Van Noy. “I keep telling my kids that Martin City is a living, breathing entity. If you take care of this place, it will take care of you and I really believe that.”