The King of Blues, B.B. King, serenaded a Gainesville hotspot in the 1940s.
He and other jazz and blues artists often stopped at Gainesville’s Cotton Club, a Harlem-style nightclub. On Monday, his daughter, Patty King, clapped as the building reopened as Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, a museum commemorating musicians like King and the songs they played.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and museum board members cut a symbolic green ribbon tied to the porch and entered the large white building, at 837 SE Seventh Ave. About 250 people attended the museum’s opening.
“I thought there were going to be a lot of people here, but this is a whole city,” said Karen Cole-Smith, a member of the Cotton Club Museum’s board of directors.
Cole-Smith said she was proud to see so many people interested in learning more about African American culture and history.
“There’s always something powerful about history, culture and keeping young people in the loop about why preserving this is so important,” she said.
The nonprofit Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, Inc. raised money to build the museum with grants from the Florida Department of State’s Historic Preservation Bureau and the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, as well as from independent donations and fundraisers like the annual Juneteenth Breakfast, said Vivian Filer, the chair of the museum’s board of directors.
Filer saw the historical significance of the building, which had deteriorated since it closed. In 1960, it became a furniture store for a decade and then shut its doors until Monday, she said.
The original tin roof had caved in and had to be replaced, Filer said. It took 13 years to complete the project.
Charles Kibert, a professor at UF’s Powell Center for Construction and Environment, began to oversee the project in 2008 when he saw the building in poor condition, with a tree growing out of it, and wanted to help preserve the historical landmark, Filer said.
“People would call this place an ‘eyesore’ and wanted the city to take it down,” Filer said. “We saw potential.”
The museum will open after a private gala in January, when ticket prices will be posted on its website, Filer said.
She said it was an important time to learn from the past.
“We are preserving that which has become the past and we are creating new history,” Filer said.
Writer's caption: Gainesville residents gather around the front of the restored Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.