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A New Canvas for Baltimore: Social Clubs Hold Keys to City’s Past and Future

February is Black History Month, and Baltimore’s past is rich in contributions from the black community. As time has passed, some buildings that harbor important parts of Baltimore’s black culture and history have fallen into disrepair and disuse. With a recent award from the state, two of these properties will soon be restored to their former glory.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development awarded $325,000 in Project C.O.R.E. funding to the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, a West Baltimore-based nonprofit organization, for building repairs to the Arch Social Club and Sphinx Club. Both properties, located along Pennsylvania Avenue, represent important parts of the history of the city’s black population. The establishments date back to when the city was still heavily segregated, and serve as reminders of how far Baltimore’s black community has come.

While the Arch Social Club is still in use, the Sphinx Club has been closed since 1992. In its heyday, the Sphinx Club, established in 1946, was a members-only venue that attracted well-known black entertainers like Sam Cooke and Redd Foxx for performances. The club sat on a strip known as The Avenue, a length of Pennsylvania Avenue famous for its nightlife that catered to the city’s black population. When renovations are complete, the club will help bring stability to an area of Baltimore heavily affected during the civil unrest in 2015.

The Arch Social Club was established in 1905, and has long been a cultural anchor in Baltimore. Despite only offering membership to a select few, the club regularly opens its doors to city residents for social events. During the civil unrest of 2015, its members offered food, water and use of its restrooms to anyone in need. A mens-only club, the Arch Social Club has seen a decline in its membership over the years as the state of the neighborhood has worsened.

The buildings will be stabilized and renovated, with more intensive work needed for the Sphinx Club; the Arch Social Club will have repairs made to its roof, along with other small internal fixes. The Druid Heights CDC expects all work to be completed in 2018, with work on the Sphinx Club concluding later this year. When complete, they will serve as places for families from Baltimore and beyond to come and enjoy live entertainment, healthy food and other cultural offerings.

“A New Canvas for Baltimore” is a regular series covering Project C.O.R.E. (Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise). Project C.O.R.E. will clear the way for new green space, new affordable and mixed use housing, and new opportunities for small business owners in Baltimore City. The initiative will generate jobs, strengthen the partnership between the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland and lead to safer, healthier and more attractive communities. For more information on Project C.O.R.E., visit http://dhcd.maryland.gov/ProjectCORE/.