The Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, Inc. (CCMCC) is a 50l(c)(3) not for proﬁt corporation, located at 837 SE 7th Avenue in Gainesville, FL, that was established to preserve the historic Cotton Club building, and other buildings on the site, and develop a museum and cultural center. The 1.84 acre site includes the Cotton Club/Blue Note (often referred to as the Hall), the Perryman Grocery Store, and four shot-gun houses. All of the buildings are on the 1950 Sanborn Map in their current locations.
Plans for the site, which were developed in collaboration with the University of Florida’s Powell Center for Construction and Environment in the Rinker School of Building Construction and Santa Fe College, will utilize all of the structures on the site. The Cotton Club building and one of the shotgun houses have been restored. The Cotton Club building houses the museum and serves as a large-scale performance and rental space. The Perryman store is designated to become a café and mini museum with a farmer’s market for local growers. Plans for use of the remaining shotgun houses will be determined through collaborative meetings with individuals and organizations from the community.
The development of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center is creating a heritage, tourism destination that will provide a glimpse of African American life during the period of racial segregation in the United States and ensure that future generations never forget the historic richness and legacy of a time and place that impacted and enriched the lives of an entire nation of people.
Under the leadership of Rev. Thelma Shaw Young, Mt. Olive African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church purchased the Cotton Club site (located at 837 SE 7th Avenue in east Gainesville) in 1995. Following the purchase, the charge of developing a plan to save the Cotton Club building was assigned to Vivian Filer, a longtime member and Trustee at Mt. Olive.
Neighborhood meetings, tours of the buildings and the site, and a feasibility study supported by a grant from the Powell Center for Construction & Environment at the University of Florida guided the group’s decision to organize. In 1997, the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center (CCMCC) Board was established and given the charge to save the buildings and develop the property. The Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, Inc. was incorporated as a separate, independent business from Mt. Olive in 2007. In 2007, Mt. Olive awarded the CCMCC a 99 year lease for the Cotton Club site. The group’s plan was to restore the six buildings on the site and incorporate them into a museum and cultural center that preserves and highlights African American history and culture in a way that contributes to the economic growth and development of the community it serves.
The goals of the CCMCC project include the development of a much needed venue for the display of African American history and cultural artifacts, and the building of a large-scale performance space in east Gainesville in addition to the revitalization of a traditional African American neighborhood.
The first phase of the restoration project, which began in 2005, focused on the stabilization of the Cotton Club building and restoration of its exterior components.
The Cotton Club building was constructed as a wood frame building and remains so today. It is a two story facility that will seat 200 occupants in auditorium style seating on the main floor. The second floor of the building houses a concrete room (walls, floor, ceiling, and door), which served as the projection room during the period when the building was a movie theater.
The building originally had a tin roof and period (1940s) windows and doors. However, its condition deteriorated over the years. At the time it was purchased by Mt. Olive, holes in the roof and walls, the foundation was crumbling and a tree growing through the side of the building. The Powell Center for Construction & Environment at the University of Florida provided a $5,000 grant to fund a feasibility study that would determine if the building could be saved and restored. The findings of the feasibility study indicated that not only could the building be restored but that it was an important part of history and should be restored.
When restoration began, the building had to be almost totally rebuilt in order to stabilize it. This meant repairing the foundation in addition to installing a new roof (metal) along new siding, windows, and doors. Except for some interior walls and "floor and truss components,” the building is completely new. Some components of the exterior, such as the roof, siding and windows, could not be precisely matched to the original component appearance because the originals no longer exist in the market. The windows had been completely destroyed or were missing, and although the best effort was made to replace them with modern versions that are as faithful as possible to a building of the Cotton Club’s era, they are not the same.
Phase 1 also included the restoration of one of the shotgun houses, which housed the CCMCC office until the completion of the Cotton Club building.
Funding for Phase 1 included a $350,000 Historic Preservation grant from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, a $20,000 grant from the Pantry Corporation, and in-kind roofing service from Perry Roofing Contractors. Additional funding was the result of fundraising by the Board of Directors and contributions from individuals, community organizations and businesses.
Phase II focused on the completion of the interior of the Cotton Club building, installation of mechanical systems such as the heating and air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, and sprinkler systems. This phase also included completion of the insulation and interior finishes, along with parking and landscaping. Additionally, during this phase a building was constructed to house the necessary support facilities, including restrooms.
Funding for Phase II included over $250,000 from the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and a $489,350 facilities grant from the Florida Department of Cultural Affairs. These funds, along with continued donations from supporters and fundraising by the Board, made it possible to complete the main hall (the Cotton Club building). A certificate of occupancy was awarded in September 2018. The restoration of the Cotton Club building was celebrated with a Ribbon Cutting ceremony in November 2018 and the opening of the museum was marked with a Grand Opening Gala in February 2019.
The Cotton Club building is now an important community asset that offers cultural arts exhibits, concerts, educational programming, and community services for audiences of up to 200 people. It serves as a museum to preserve African American History through the collection and display of historical artifacts and art of all media. It is also a rental venue for other activities, such as banquets, weddings, and family reunions.
The Cotton Club building cannot be awarded historic preservation designation because of the many components that could not be restored to period authenticity. However, a historical marker from the Historic Preservation Office, Division of Historical Resources in the Florida Department of State will be erected on the site and the Cotton Club building remains a building of integrity and community pride.
Phase III of the CCMCC project will focus on the restoration of the Perryman Store and the remaining shotgun houses. The Board of directors is currently seeking grant funds to finance this phase of the project.
Those who have funds or ideas to offer are asked to use the contact tab on this website to get involved.