426 E. Kennedy Blvd., Eatonville
Parlaying gambling profits and a fruit picker’s salary into a real estate empire, black Altamonte Springs entrepreneur Condon Merritt opened Club Eaton in 1950. After being purchased by Billy Bozeman, a former musician from Orlando, the club became one of Central Florida’s most popular night spots, attracting patrons as far from Tampa and Daytona Beach seeking to enjoy themselves, meet others, and show off their dates. Popular among Chitlin Circuit musicians for having rooms upstairs where they could stay overnight, national acts associated with the club include Sam Cooke, Chuck Willis, Tina Turner, Etta James, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, the Drifters and the Platters. For several years, the club was owned by E.L. Bing, a family neighbor and principal of the all-black high school my parents attended in Plant City. Bing’s son Harry, eventually served as mayor of Eatonville. One of the nation’s first incorporated African-American towns, Eatonville is the newest Florida Main Street community. However, the historic venue closed its doors for good in 2008.
Deep Water City Lodge 751 (The Elks)
304 North Coyle Street, Pensacola
The Elks is a historic Chitlin Circuit venue still in operation in Pensacola’s Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood.
In town for the 2019 Florida Preservation Conference, I was provided the opportunity to go on a private history tour to see the authentic African-American side of the city. This included a late night stop at The Elks, a lounge in Belmont-DeVilliers, the historic center of Pensacola’s black community. A result of Florida’s Jim Crow laws mandating segregation in 1905, Belmont-DeVilliers is the only Florida neighborhood on the Mississippi Blues Trail and The Elks is a historic venue still in operation. Built in 1937, The Elks was one of the few places people of color could congregate in a social setting. Famed Chitlin Circuit musicians that have performed at The Elks include Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Roy Brown.
5512 Gregg Street, American Beach
American Beach’s historic Evans Rendezvous was an oceanfront venue that operated from 1948 to 1980.
Impressed with the crowds at American Beach, a beach resort where African Americans could find “rest and relaxation without humiliation,” Willie B. Evans, Sr. opened a small wooden club called Sunny’s Spot in 1942. With business booming, Evans built a larger oceanfront club providing entertainment, food, and liquor in 1948 called Evans Rendezvous. During its heyday, it hosted famed musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles. In operation until 1980, the property was acquired by the Trust for Public Land with the intention for restoration as a cultural and community center. Recently, the Nassau County Department of Planning & Economic Opportunity was awarded a National Park Service African American Civil Rights grant to fund a Historic Structure Report for Evans’ Rendezvous.