The Cotton Club Comes Back to Life

DCP’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) recently helped with the restoration of the Cotton Club in Gainesville. This venue once hosted the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles and B.B. King.

The Cotton Club started out as a venue to watch films in the late 1940s. It then later became the music hall known as the Cotton Club, where African-American entertainers would perform for a varied audience.

“This was one of the first times there was integration in Gainesville,” M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management Professor Charles Kibert said. “White college students would go dance and listen to music.”

According to Vivian Filer, Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center board chair, the city subsequently denied the club’s request for license renewal. The initial purpose and life of the Cotton Club came to an end with this decision.

Kibert became involved in the Cotton Club restoration efforts 10 years ago. A graduate student, Donna Isaacs, came across this neglected building.

The community where the venue is located, led by Vivian Filer, had begun the process of saving the building several years prior and has continued its efforts as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization with help from Kibert and the students from the Powell Center for Construction & Environment. This organization is now known as the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center (CMCC).

“Working with Dr. Kibert and his students is a prime example of the value to both sides when ‘town and gown’ work together,” Filer stated.
CMCC received three grants for the project. The first grant from the State Historic Preservation Board was to stabilize the building and rebuild the foundations, façade, roof, doors and windows.

The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) provided the second grant, which was for constructing a bathroom building outside and for exterior repairs and painting.

The third one from the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) was for the interior building systems from HVAC and electrical to carpentry, structural reconstruction, drywall, painting, flooring and other miscellaneous finishes.

“We’re in the final phases of completing the project,” Kibert stated. “We still need to install a sound system. The grant money has essentially run out so we are in the process of raising additional funding.”

Six of the seven members of GSA helped with the restoration efforts this semester. They are Farah Akiely, Hamed Hakim, Hashem Izadi Moud, Katherine Maslak, Mouloud Messaoudi and Rahmy Widyastri.

“This project was a very exciting opportunity from start to finish,” GSA member Mouloud Messaoudi stated. “It was a team project. Everybody was doing something. We cleaned the building first, and then we installed the flooring planks. We felt a big joy the time we nailed the last plank.”

Kibert stated that CMCC is trying to figure out how to incorporate multiple roles for the facility. They would like for it to be a museum and cultural center while also functioning as a live music venue. There are issues such as seating that still need to be figured out.

Kibert and the students have helped bring back a historical venue to the East Gainesville community. But the residents aren’t the only ones benefitting from this project.

“I believe these types of projects are a good opportunity for students with construction backgrounds to learn and have a positive impact on the community at the same time,” Messaoudi said. “I encourage my fellow graduate students and anyone else to give a little bit of their time to volunteer and make a difference whenever it is possible.”

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