This historic context and statement of significance for the Arch Social Club was prepared for the National Register of Historic Places landmark nomination by Eli Pousson, Baltimore Heritage and William Pleasant, CEO Ascent Industrial Research with Van Anderson, President of Arch Social Club and Kaleb Tshamba, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Arch Social Club.


The Arch Social Club building reflects the history of movie theatres and music venues along Pennsylvania Avenue over decades of operation as the Schanze Theatre, Morgan Theatre, and Wilson’s Restaurant. Since the theater was first erected in 1912, the building has also been shaped by patterns of racial segregation in West Baltimore neighborhoods and discriminatory policies by theater operators. Around the early 1940s, the theater started directly seeking black patrons. By 1946, the second floor, known as Morgan Hall, was used for lectures on civic issues, parties by black social clubs, and an interracial theatrical performance. In 1955, Wilson’s Restaurant purchased the property and turned the building into a banquet hall. The restaurant’s discriminatory practice of excluding black customers drew protests from the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in January 1956. By 1959, however, the restaurant was open to all patrons.

The building is also significant as the sole surviving clubhouse for the Arch Social Club. Founded in 1905, the Arch Social Club is one of the oldest black social and civic organizations in Baltimore and the second oldest secular African American men’s club in the United States. The club is an example of cooperative economic action among black Baltimoreans at the same time the patterns of exclusion and racial segregation became fixed in place through policies such as Baltimore’s 1910 housing segregation law. The club is notable as both a social venue and a mutual benefit organization, as the club also provided forms of medical and life insurance to members. Historian Jessica Gordon Nembhard notes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century there were "many forms" of cooperative economic action including mutual insurance organizations, fraternal groups and secret societies, and buying clubs.1 These varied groups all offered opportunities for black Baltimoreans to “acquire and exercise organizational skills”—and often encouraged them to apply these skills to politics and civil rights activism.2

As in the case of social clubs in New Orleans and many other cities, in the decades after World War II the Arch Social Club became valued more as a space for music and community than as a provider of medical or life insurance.3 However, the Arch Social Club still reflects the complex history of resistance to segregation and discrimination that shaped the local civil rights movement. The theater served as both a site of protest and a site of community-building in the 1950s. In addition, the club itself is one of the few surviving black community groups from an area of west Baltimore that was targeted for clearance for highways and urban renewal projects. The club’s forced displacement from Saratoga Street in 1972 and move to its current location on Pennsylvania Avenue reflects local and national disparities in the redevelopment of black neighborhoods.The Arch Social Club an important site to the history of Pennsylvania Avenue, the history of early twentieth century black community building, and the continued importance of music venues and social spaces for community building through the present day.

Arch Social Club

The Cosmopolitans

Around 1905, a group of three black men—Raymond A. Coates, Jeremiah “Jerry” S. Hill, and Samuel I. Barney— came together at Stokes’ Restaurant at Arch and Josephine Streets, just a short distance west of Lexington Market. The group sought to formalize their casual neighborhood social gatherings and escape the abuse by Baltimore City police officers who worked out of the Western District Station around the corner on Pine Street.4

Before the end of 1905, the group outgrew the restaurant and rented a nearby building on Saratoga Court for $1.50 a week.5 They named their new group “The Cosmopolitans” and declared their mission as the “social, moral, and intellectual uplift of its members and in order that charity may be practiced in a Christian-like spirit and true friendship and brotherly love be promoted and maintained.” They collected weekly dues from members and continued to grow as an increasing number of members gathered at the clubhouse to drink, smoke, and socialize. Unlike many other black social clubs and civic organizations at the time, “The Cosmopolitans” were open to all men, regardless of religious denomination, class, profession, or political party. Women were excluded except for occasional special events. The club’s name also suggested a broader progressive attitude.6

The founding members and their families played active roles in a number of other local institutions in the early twentieth century. For example, in February 1907, Raymond A. Coates helped found the Monumental Lodge No. 3, Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World.7 Jeremiah Hill’s father, Nathaniel Hill, lived nearby at 576 St. Mary Street and was one of the oldest members of the Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church located a few blocks north on Orchard Street.8 The group was just one of a number of social clubs organized around this time. The Unique Beneficial Association, organized on October 3, 1916, later operated the Unique Club located at 135 Arch Street which reportedly shared many members and officers with the Arch Social Club by the 1940s.9

Between 1910 and 1911 the group reorganized, and, on March 15, 1912, The Cosmopolitans was granted a corporate charter from the state of Maryland. The listed charter members included Coates, Barney and Hill, along with Basil Williams, Richard Marshall, Horace Garner, and John L. Kier, a founder of the club’s “mass cultural program.” John W. Butler and John Lecators were listed as members of the board of directors. In June 1912, the club headquarters was located at 233 Arch Street.10

Arch Social Club

Around August 1914, the group reorganized and took on a new name—the Arch Social Club. By October 1915, the membership had grown to ninety members in good standing and the organization had “a large club house handsomely furnished for members.” In a public invitation to a fundraiser for St. John A. M. E. Church on Lexington Street near Pine Street, the club explained its mission, writing: “Our fundamental principles are charity to one another. We aid our sick, bury our dead, and care for the widows and orphan children.” The church fundraiser included a performance by local singer Mrs. Lula Burgess and Robert J. Young’s Society Orchestra, along with remarks by Baltimore City Councilman Harry S. Cummings, the first black member of Baltimore’s city council, and J. Albert Adams, a black alderman from Annapolis.11

In January 1917, the group held a “housewarming” for men and women at the group’s new clubhouse at 655 Josephine Street:

The ladies were out in force, and they marveled at the comfortable surroundings of their husbands, sweethearts and brothers. President Richard Mossell and the reception committee were all smiles as they greeted the host of lady visitors. Raymond Coates, assisted by William Jones, saw that everybody had plenty of turkey, ham, salad and other good things.12

The beginning of Prohibition in 1920 under the Volstead Act created new opportunities for private clubs like the Arch Social Club. Prohibition shut down bars and breweries across the country but lax enforcement of restrictions on serving alcohol in Baltimore and Maryland meant that private clubs and illicit speakeasies grew in popularity.

The club offered members more than just a quiet place to drink and socialize, it also offered insurance to members and, in at least a few cases, opportunities for business partnerships. For example, co-founders Jeremiah Hill and Raymond Coates were both officers of the Standard Benefit Insurance Company, established in July 1921 at 900 Eutaw Street and reportedly “the first colored company to start business in the state with a capital of $100,000, and the first colored company to have the authority to write a policy of $1,000.”13 Two years later, in August 1923, the directors and officers of the newly formed Western Relief Building and Loan Association came almost exclusively from the club roster. Club president Clarence Queen was president, Richard Morsell, a local barber, was the vice-president, Walter Gough, secretary, and Raymond Coates, treasurer.14

In 1922, the club purchased a new building at 676 Saratoga Street (only a short distance from its old location) for $500, and, in November, the Afro-American reported on plans to remodel the building into a “well-appointed club house” while offering “stock to its members to cover the cost of the improvements.”15 Members’ occupations included laborers, porters, waiters, clerks, barbers, a dentist, two physicians, a florist, and an undertaker. The group included long-time activists such as Dr. Harry Brown, who served as the club's medical examiner and lived at 1501 Presstman Street in the early 1920s.16 By the beginning of 1923, the club had completed its renovations and Horace Garner, president of the club, and Raymond Coates, “chairman of the committee on arrangements,” sent out five hundred invitations for a “housewarming” on January 29.17

Coates and most other club members lived nearby the clubhouse. Three members, including Coates, lived on Arch Street, seven lived on Pine Street, and ten lived on Josephine Street. For Raymond Coates, the new clubhouse was one of his last major contributions to the Arch Social Club. Coates died on February 1, 1924. The funeral for the “well known lodge man” was reportedly “the largest in recent years among the colored people” featuring forty limousines around Whatcoat M. E. Church at Franklin and Pine Streets where the funeral service took place.18

The group continued to grow in the 1930s and 1940s. On September 6, 1934, Maryland made the Arch Social Club the first private club in the state to receive a liquor license after the end of Prohibition in December 1933. Notable members in this period included John L. Kier, Walter E. Batson, and Clarence W. Queen. Kier was an accomplished professional musician and band conductor who organized and promoted performances at the Club in the 1930s. He played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1930s and was a militant member of the Musicians Union Local 543. Batson, club president, and Queen, club secretary, were both active members and organizers with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Batson, who was also a musician and World War I veteran, worked as a “Pullman car waiter” for thirty years and became a leading organizer for the local Baltimore chapter of the Brotherhood on the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad line. He was a key figure in the union’s fight to secure the 1937 contract from the the Pullman Palace Car Company—making the Brotherhood the first independent union organized and led by black workers to force a large corporation to sign a labor contract.

By 1946, the Arch Social Club’s membership included nearly three hundred men, and Charles Cooper served as the group’s president. As most members were veterans of World War I and World War II, the club exempted members from paying club dues while serving active duty. The club also worked closely with the black Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Posts #19 and #213 and American Legion Posts #90 and #8509 to provide support to returning soldiers and sailors. The relationship between the club and the veterans’ organizations highlights the important role the club played in the lives of members and Baltimore’s civil society.19

Schanze Theatre to Wilson’s Restaurant

Early history of the Schanze Theatre

The building that now serves the Arch Social Club began as the Schanze Theater at 2426 Pennsylvania Avenue. Prior to the construction of the theater, the site was “occupied by a stable, which was once used as the terminus of the old horse-car line that ran to Pimlico and Pikesville.”20

By 1901, Dr. Frederick W. Schanze owned and operated a drug store at North and Pennsylvania Avenues immediately abutting the stable.21 Schanze was born in Baltimore on December 1, 1868, and graduated from the Maryland College of Pharmacy in 1889 before going into business for himself.22 As Pennsylvania and North Avenues developed as commercial corridors in the early twentieth century, Schanze evidently saw an opportunity for investment when he purchased the stable in 1907.

The Sun reported on “tentative plans” for the new theatre in December 1911, writing, “the building will be two stories high, of reinforced concrete with a slag roof and steel and concrete foundation. It will be entirely fireproof with cement floorings. The face is to be of ornamental stone, marble and concrete, lighted by vari-colored electric lights. The interior is to be finished in hardwood and oak, equipped with steam heat and electric lighting.”23 In January 1912, the Sun shared additional details on local architect Paul Emmart’s design:

The proposed building, which is to be two full stories, will be entirely fireproof. It is to be of reinforced concrete, with tile roof and ornamental cornice. The framework will be of steel and wrought iron. The playhouse will front 40 feet on Pennsylvania Avenue and extend back 140 feet. The first floor will be used for the vaudeville theatre and motion pictures, and the second floor will be used for the hall. A spacious stage with vari-colored footlights will be arranged. The hall is to have appurtenances for balls and dances, including cloakrooms. The entire front is to be decorated with electric lights. When completed the building will be one of the largest and handsomest of its kind in that section.24

By March 1912, Emmart completed the drawings and submitted an application to the Building Inspector's office for a permit.25 Erected at a cost of $26,000, the building’s grand façade (featuring a two-story aedicule) highlights the importance of the theater in West Baltimore’s early twentieth social life. Baltimore was in the midst of a movie theater building boom, going from eight movie theaters erected in 1908 to a total of 113 by 1914.26

Born in 1867, Paul Emmart designed a variety of local buildings between 1904 and 1915.27 Emmart’s architectural career first began in 1886, when he partnered with William H. Mumford, a native of Rochester, England, to establish Mumford and Emmart, “dealers in men’s furnishing goods.” Mumford died in July 1890 evidently prompting Emmart’s transition from furnishings to buildings.28 Emmart’s surviving buildings include the short-lived West End Theatre built in 1911 at the corner of W. Baltimore Street and Frederick Avenue. Like the Schanze Theatre, the West End Theatre also featured a dance hall on the second floor. Unlike the Schanze, however, the West End closed in 1923.29 At the time of his death in 1927, Emmart lived in the 1600 block of Hollins Street.30

Finally, on December 21, 1912, Schanze’s Theatre opened to the public. The Sun reported on “Northwest Baltimore’s newest amusement place” the next day:

A reception was held by the proprietor, F.W. Schanze, and a free concert was given by Emerick’s Orchestra. A large crowd attended and inspected the playhouse and the large hall over it. The theatre has a seating capacity of 493 and a large stage adapted to vaudeville productions. The daily performance will consist of two acts of vaudeville and three picture films. The first production will be given at 2:30 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.31

In addition to sharing the same architect, the Schanze Theatre also shared performers with the West End Theatre. In February 1913, the Sun reported, “The West End Theatre will switch vaudeville attractions with Schanze’s Theatre, using the same acts. During the week there will be a progress of three or four pictures, which will be changed daily.”32 The mix of live vaudeville performance with film screenings was typical of theaters in the period. Vaudeville acts in February 1913 included Fred Bowman, “the comic countryman,” the Petite Sisters dancers, Brennan and Wright, a “singing and dancing travesty,” and Clara Dagman, “the baseball girl.”33

Most theaters in Baltimore at this time were small, seating only about 300 people. Architectural style and decoration could be plain or quite elaborate: many early theaters had lavish classical ornamentation, while others were built in existing structures. Because theaters did not have a respectable reputation— in part because they required that patrons sit in the dark amongst total strangers—their owners tried to create a “comforting, homey atmosphere.”34

The program at the Schanze and West End theaters typically consisted of a feature movie and two shorts; this was usually accompanied by live entertainment on piano, organ, or drums, in contrast to the larger theaters that sometimes had entire orchestras. Slide shows previewed movies or illustrated songs, and short skits followed the movie. In the late 1910s and 1920s, however, movies began to eclipse vaudeville in popularity. After 1921, the Schanze faced competition from the Metropolitan Theatre, an 1,800-seat theater at the northeast corner of North and Pennsylvania Avenues designed by architect Otto G. Simonson.35 In 1925, Schanze acquired the triangular lot adjacent to the theater on North Stockton Street but the purpose of this acquisition is not clear. The increased competition may have contributed to Dr. Schanze’s decision to lease the building to a local theatre operator—Durkee Enterprises—in 1926.

Durkee Enterprises was founded around 1916, when early movie house owner Frank H. Durkee partnered with C. W. Pacy and Charles E. Nolte to establish Durkee Enterprises. The business grew quickly to include the ownership or operation of eleven theaters by 1921. The partnership took over operation of Schanze’s Theatre in 1926, bringing Durkee Enterprises total theaters to sixteen.36 Photographer Amy Davis interviewed Aaron Seidler, a retired film buyer and theater manager, who recalled the experience of visiting the theater during this same period:

In 1928, when I was seven, Schanze’s was the first movie house I went to. The box office was in the middle of the sidewalk. A nickel to get in, but first I’d stop and get a nickel’s worth of toffee in a big bag. It was small, with a center aisle and wooden seats on either side, a wood floor, high ceiling, and no air-conditioning. It had a large stage and curtain. Upstairs was Schanze’s Hall. In its day they had live music for dancing and weddings.37

By March 1930, the theatre’s management had changed again, this time to E. A. Matthews. This new manager undertook a $3,000 renovation giving the building a new color scheme of “rose, cream and gold, with floral designs” along with new light fixtures, new carpets and drapes (“tan and rose to harmonize with the decorations”), and improved “sound-reproducing equipment.”38 That same year also saw the second floor being used by the Bangert & Petticord Dancing School.

Pennsylvania Avenue and Morgan Theatre

The changes to the old Schanze Theatre were matched by broader changes in the social life of Pennsylvania Avenue in the early 1930s. Beginning the late nineteenth century, black residents had moved out of downtown to buy and rent homes in the neighborhoods now known as Upton and Druid Heights, despite violent attacks by white neighbors, residential segregation ordinances, and restrictive covenants. By the 1920s and early 1930s, black residents had moved into the residential blocks around Lafayette Square, Harlem Park, and west to Fulton Avenue, transforming Pennsylvania Avenue into the largest retail and entertainment district for the city’s black households.

In the mid twentieth century, the twenty-three blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue between Franklin Street and Fulton Avenue were a site of all kinds of public celebration and private entertainment for black Baltimoreans. Notable early businesses on “The Avenue” included: Mrs. Bessie Scott’s salon in the 1500 block (opened in 1918 and in operation until 1972); the Penn Hotel in the 1600 block (the first black-owned hotel in Baltimore when it opened in 1921); and the famed Royal Theatre in the 1300 block (which opened under black ownership in 1922 as the Douglass Theatre).39

The changing makeup of Pennsylvania Avenue and the continually changing business of neighborhood movie theatres likely contributed to a decade of changing management at the Schanze Theatre. According to Robert Headley, the Rome Circuit, the city’s second-largest neighborhood theater company after Durkee Enterprises, leased the theater and reopened it as the Morgan Theatre around 1940. While historian Robert Headley has suggested that the theater began hiring black staff around March 1940, this is contradicted by other reports.40

In January 1941, the theater adopted a new name, the Cinema Theatre, and started showing Yiddish-language movies and foreign films for the number of Jewish residents who lived in nearby Reservoir Hill, Park Circle, and Easterwood Park. The second floor meeting hall was renamed Tel Aviv Hall.41 Baltimore’s Jewish population was also concentrated in northwest Baltimore in the early to mid-twentieth century due to discrimination against Jewish home-buyers and the concentration of synagogues in the area. Irvin Cohen, a retired school teacher, recalled the Cinema Theatre as “second-rate… dirty and old-fashioned.” Many businesses on North Avenue remained segregated for white Baltimoreans while most shoppers and movie-goers on Pennsylvania Avenue were black. Sitting close to the intersection of these two thoroughfares, the Schanze Theatre was “a white theater in a black neighborhood” that attracted large audiences of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland, including Irvin Cohen’s mother, who sought out the Sunday night performances of Yiddish “stage shows, serious drama, music, and comedians.”42

Frederick Schanze died on January 10, 1944, in his home at 2315 N. Longwood Street. Schanze was survived by his wife, Mrs. Josephine Abbott Schanze, and remembered as “one of the oldest pharmacists of northwest Baltimore and owner of Schanze’s Theater… a Shriner and member of several social and fraternal organizations.”43 In April 1944, three months after Frederick Schanze’s death, Josephine Schanze sold the theater to Barry and Alma Goldman for $16,000.44 The Goldmans did not hold the theater long before selling it in June 1946 to Samuel Shoubin, a local real estate investor, and his wife Anna Shoubin. The Shoubins, who previously operated another theater known as the “Pic in Pigtown,” restored the name to the Morgan Theatre and focused again on attracting black movie-goers. They promoted the theater as the “one and only scientifically air-conditioned, ultra-modern theatre in Northwest Baltimore.”

Between 1947 and 1949, the second floor meeting space, known as Morgan Hall, hosted a variety of lectures, meetings, and performances by white Communist organizations and black community groups. In March 1947, the theater’s hall hosted the first “post-war affair” for Club 25 (likely a local social club).45 In November, the hall hosted the Greenwich Theater Players, an interracial troupe recruited from “various white and Negro theatrical groups” that the Sun described as the “first of its kind to be formed south of New York city.” The group performed “Deep Are the Roots” by Arnaud D’Usseau and James Gow. First staged on Broadway in 1945, “Deep Are the Roots” told the story of a decorated black soldier who came home from World War II determined to fight white supremacy in his Southern hometown.46 The Sun remarked that there was “no segregation” among the two hundred person audience at the opening show.

In 1949, the Baltimore Forum, a group associated with local members of the Communist party, organized a series of lectures at the hall. Around three hundred people came out for a talk by novelist Howard Fast in January 1949. Fast had joined the Communist Party in 1943 and used the speech to defend the Communist leaders accused of promoting violent revolution in the first of the Smith Act trials in New York City and to reflect on the role of novels in pushing “political thought.”47

In August 1949, the theater closed for renovations and reopened on September 1 as an “Arts Theater” presenting the film “Quartet,” which the Afro-American called “a novel program which should be well received by lovers of the better type films.”48 The Afro-American called it “Baltimore’s first Arts Theatre” writing, “Those who are artistically inclined have just what they have been asking for.”49 Unfortunately, just two months after reopening, a two-alarm fire broke out on the stage and “badly damaged the front portion of the building.”50

The fire ended the building’s operation as a moviehouse and the Shoubins converted the building into a “sport center” (a name often given to pool halls) known as “Porkie House Sportland.”51 Morgan Hall continued operations through at least March 1950 when it hosted Communist author Israel Epstein for a talk entitled “China Changes the World.”52 By December 1950, Samuel and Anna Shoubin had sued Porkie House Sportland Inc. and scheduled an auction to sell off the company’s equipment (presumably to cover unpaid rent).53

Wilson’s Restaurant

In June 1955, the Shoubins sold the former theater to Joseph and Lillian M. Wilson, who owned a restaurant adjacent to the theater. After buying the new building, Joseph Wilson received an alcohol permit for the new address, levelled the floor to accommodate the restaurant, and added a kitchen at the rear of the building—resulting in a $3,300 increase in the assessed improvement value of the property.

Joseph Wilson established Wilson’s Restaurant at 1601 W. North Avenue in 1932 in the building formerly occupied by Schanze’s drugstore which the couple purchased from Josephine F. Schanze in March 1944.54 Born in Scotland in 1897, Joseph came to Baltimore as a teenager. He ran Wilson’s Restaurant “known for the seafood he cooked himself” up until the early 1960s when his son took over operations. Joseph returned as manager in 1969 and ran it until he sold the business in 1974.55 In his recollections of Schanze’s Theatre in the early 1930s, Aaron Seidler remarked how “on the corner was Wilson’s seafood restaurant” and “the only thing that separated the theater and the restaurant was a stairway that led to the projection booth.”56

In January 1956, an interracial group of activists with the local chapter of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) picketed the restaurant to protest the exclusion of black diners. The protest was part of a larger campaign against discrimination by so-called “white tablecloth” restaurants following the success of a campaign to desegregate lunch counter service at Baltimore’s smaller “five and dimes” and variety stores.

It is unclear how long CORE sustained their protest campaign, but, in 1958, Wilson’s ended their practice of excluding black patrons.57 The year following, in February 1959, four fans of the Baltimore Colts football team, including civil rights activist Troy Bailey, brought famed baseball player Jackie Robinson to a banquet at Wilson’s Restaurant to “honor members of the 1958 world championship team, the Baltimore Colts.”58 That same year, Wilson’s hosted wedding anniversary celebrations, fundraisers, and other events for black patrons, reflecting the integration of the business into the social lives of black Baltimoreans.59

Displacement and Move for the Arch Social Club

The history of the Arch Social Club’s 1972 displacement from its Saratoga Street clubhouse is closely connected to the history of Baltimore’s racial discrimination in the siting and implementation of housing and urban redevelopment projects. In the first half of the twentieth century, elected officials and white institutional leaders began presenting the downtown blocks west of Paca Street as a hopelessly blighted slum. Black residents made up a majority of residents along the neighborhood’s small streets and alleys even in the nineteenth century before the city’s 1910 racial segregation ordinance designated the area for black occupancy only. In 1911, seeking to enforce the new segregation law, city police arrested a white woman, Mrs. Kate Holler, who moved into a house at 604 Arch Street, despite her protests that she had lived next door for several years prior.60

The concentration of black households in the area west of downtown made the neighborhood a target for displacement. Between the 1940s and 1970s, a series of major housing, transportation, and redevelopment projects displaced thousands of people in the area west of Lexington Market with substantial federal funding. For example, by 1952, the Baltimore Housing Authority had announced plans for two nearby public housing developments on the Fremont Street and George Street sites (later known as the George P. Murphy Homes). Together, the two public housing projects anticipated the demolition of sixteen acres of buildings and the displacement of eleven hundred families. At the same time, the city’s Redevelopment Commission had started planning the redevelopment of a fifty-six acre area just to the north (roughly bounded by Biddle, Argyle, Dolphin, and Druid Hill Avenue, which called for replacing the existing buildings with new private development.61

In 1958, the combined Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Authority (BURHA) established the University of Maryland Urban Renewal Area, covering a large area roughly bounded by Lexington Street, Paca Street, Fremont Avenue, and Washington Boulevard. For federal funding purposes, the designation actually covered two separate urban renewal areas, the first bordered by Lombard, Greene, and Pratt Streets, and Fremont Avenue and the second bordered by Fayette, Paca, Redwood, and Pine Streets.62

Most significant for the Arch Social Club was the city’s plan for an east–west highway and a connecting ring road around downtown, a plan that was first proposed in the early 1940s. A succession of highway plans in the 1940s and 1950s proposed varying routes threatening the Arch Social Club and other nearby properties with demolition. For example, in 1960, city officials determined that the nearby Pine Street police station (used as detention center for women and children since 1951) was in the path of the proposed east–west expressway and started making plans to vacate the facility.63

On June 1, 1968, Bettye M. Moss highlighted the threat to the Arch Social Club with Afro-American readers, writing:

One of Baltimore’s landmarks, the Arch Social Club building, 676 W. Saratoga St. … is in the expressway path. Members, some of them there for meetings since the incorporation 56 years ago, are looking around for a new place. One of the charter members, Howard E. Mason, 74, the president, lives in the 300 block Bloom St. He succeeded Charlie Cooper at his death in 1963. He has been a member of the Elks Lodge since 1915 and Sharp Street Methodist Church 70 years. Mr. Cooper says it will seem strange to attend meetings and visit the club evenings at any other place but ‘676.’64

Later that year, revisions to design of the proposed East–West Expressway “connector” (intended to connect the proposed highway along Franklin and Mulberry Streets to the Jones Falls Expressway, I-83, and I-95) took the club out of the direct path of the highway.65 Despite the change, the city moved forward with additional major redevelopment projects around the University of Maryland and an area known as the Orchard Biddle Neighborhood Development Project (NDP).

For example, between 1969 and 1971, the University of Maryland hospital and medical school undertook a $50 million expansion across fifteen acres. The project’s five major new buildings included a new dentistry building at Pine and West Baltimore Streets and a sixty-five thousand square foot parking lot along Arch Street.66 In July 1971, the city was awarded $35 million for urban renewal across the city including the redevelopment of the "Orchard-Biddle section" for a new housing development.67 By the summer of 1972, the Arch Social Club was forced to relocate to Pennsylvania Avenue. But, in a shift from their original plans, in September 1972, the city offered a twenty-acre property bounded by Franklin, Saratoga, Pine and Paca Streets as downtown Baltimore offices for the Social Security Administration.68

Arch Social Club on Pennsylvania Avenue

The Arch Social Club’s move from Saratoga Street to Pennsylvania Avenue took place in the summer of 1972. It is unclear why the club selected the former Schanze Theater or what alternate sites they may have considered. Larry Washington, one of the oldest surviving member of the club, recalled space for dancing as one of the important advantages of the new building over the small structure on Saratoga Street. The liquor license was transferred to the Pennsylvania Avenue building at the beginning of June 1972 and the sale was finalized at the end of the month.69

The club was hardly the only black institution on the move around this time. Over the five years prior to October 1972, the city had completed the demolition of 971 homes, sixty-two businesses, and one school that stood in the way of the proposed East-West highway.70 In February 1973, the club advertised equipment for sale at the Saratoga Street building the club had occupied for over fifty years with the notice explaining briefly that the the club was “Forced To Vacate Due To Neighborhood Development Orchard Biddle Project 2.”71

One likely reason for the selection of Pennsylvania Avenue is the continued importance of the corridor as a center of black nightlife even after urban renewal cleared away many of the clubs that once occupied the area. Performers at the Arch Social Club since the 1970s have included Charles Earland, Jimmy McGriff, Hank Crawford, Irene Reid, Jeanette "Baby" Washington, The Orioles, The Drifters, The Manhattans and Joey DeFrancesco. In May 1982, Roy Brooks Jr. and the Artistic Truth played at the Arch Social Club twice a week, and, in June, the club hosted drummer Bobby Ward and Richard "Groove" Holmes.72 In the mid-1980s, the Arch Social Club finally shifted away from live music towards “disco” in an effort to accommodate the changing interests of members and people coming out for performances at the club.

The group’s leadership included Ronald Hollie, a founding member of the Local 1199E (now affiliated with the Service Employees International Union), who was club president around this same time.73 Even after the move to Pennsylvania Avenue, the group experienced further displacement for the construction of the Penn-North Metro station. In February 1978, the Club sold off restaurant fixtures and equipment as members vacated the former Wilson’s Restaurant building at 1601 W. North Avenue, which was slated to be razed for the new station.74 The club consolidated operations in the old theater, and, while they had commissioned drawings in June 1977 for substantial changes to the building, the plans were never fully executed.

The building was designated as a local landmark in 2003. In 2013, the club received a grant from the Baltimore Development Corporation through the Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street program to remove the wood panelling covering the first floor of the building and restore the original entry. Unfortunately, the club’s membership has declined over the past thirty years dropping from around 300 men in 1972 to around 60 in 2016. More encouraging is a recent grant award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to restore the building’s missing marquee and make improvements to allow the building’s continued use as a music venue and community space.

  1. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, Philadelphia, PA: Penn State University Press, 2014, 32. 

  2. “African American Fraternals as Schools for Democracy.” In What a Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Princeton University Press, 2006. 61. 

  3. Leslie Gale Parr, “Sundays in the Streets: The Long History of Benevolence, Self-Help, and Parades in New Orleans,” Southern Cultures 22, no. 4 (2016). 9. 

  4. William Pleasant, “Arch Social Club: Our History,”, accessed June 16, 2018. 

  5. In 1927, Saratoga Court west of Arch Street was renamed Born Alley. 

  6. A separate black social club named the Cosmopolitans existed in Frederick, Maryland, around 1903. Early mentions of the Baltimore club include reference to “The Cosmopolitan Outing Club” which appears to be the same organization that later became the Arch Social Club. 

  7. “New Lodge Of Elks Formed,” The Sun, February 27, 1907. 

  8. Sarah Williams, “In Memoriam,” Afro-American, December 6, 1913. 

  9. “Smith’s Hotel,” Afro-American, September 29, 1928. The officers in 1928 include James Moore, 207 N. Fremont Avenue, and William Myers, 307 N. Fremont Avenue. 

  10. “Cosmopolitan Club Outing To Brown’s Grove,” Afro-American, June 15, 1912. 

  11. “Display Ad,” Afro-American, October 2, 1915. 

  12. “Mr. and Mrs. Lee Entertain,” Afro-American., January 13, 1917. 

  13. “Article 6,” Afro-American., July 15, 1921. 

  14. “Association Elects,” Afro-American, August 24, 1923. 

  15. “Arch Social Plans Home Improvement,” Afro-American, November 17, 1922. 

  16. Donna Tyler Hollie, “History of the Arch Social Club,” Christine’s African American Genealogy Website (blog), accessed December 20, 2018,

  17. “500 Invited To Arch Social Housewarming,” Afro-American, January 26, 1923. 

  18. “Raymond Coates,” Afro-American, February 8, 1924. 

  19. William Pleasant, “Arch Social Club: Our History,”, accessed June 16, 2018. 

  20. “To Develop Caton Tract: Siegwart Beam Co. Lets Contract For Grading Of Heights. ASKS PARISH HOUSE PERMIT Addition Planned To Plant Of Hott, Ottenheimer & Elliott — Warehouse Drawings Ready,” The Sun, November 29, 1911. 

  21. “Marriage Announcement 2,” The Sun, September 19, 1901. 

  22. “Graduates of the College of Pharmacy,” The Sun, March 27, 1889. 

  23. “Building Activity Uninterrupted, Despite Season’s Advance: New Projects To Involve Thousands Announced And Many Alterations And Improvements To Be Made Old Carrollton And Fountain Inn Site To Be Occupied By A Large Office Building To Be Erected For The American Bonding Company,” The Sun, December 3, 1911. 

  24. “Building Beats Last Year’s At This Season: More Structures Planned And Going Up And A Larger Amount Of Money Being Expended,” The Sun, January 7, 1912. 

  25. “Building Operations Thrive Despite The Weather: Modern And Substantial Structures Planned And To Go Up As Soon As Possible Motion Picture And Vaudeville Theatre, A $75,000 Warehouse And Other Important Announcements Made During The Last Seven Days,” The Sun, March 10, 1912. 

  26. Robert K. Headley, Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore: An Illustrated History and Directory of Theaters, 1895-2004 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 390-391. 

  27. Emmart maintained an office at 210 W. Fayette Street between 1904 and 1915. 

  28. “Clinging to an Upset-Sloop: Two Men Try to Swim Ashore--Mumford Goes Down--Frisch’s Adventures,” The Sun, July 28, 1890. 

  29. “Dr. Miller Buys House: To Occupy Dwelling Formerly The Home Of Col. W. A. Boykin; Ground Rent of $130 Sold Mr. And Mrs. Joseph V. O’Mailey Purchase Four Houses On Hammond Alley And Albemarle St,” The Sun, November 23, 1910; John Coursey, “West End Theatre in Baltimore, MD - Cinema Treasures,” accessed February 13, 2018. Emmart’s other commissions include: in June 1908, a five-story “bowling alley and tailor shop” built by John R. Lemmert at 19 E. Fayette Street; in October 1908, a “factory and plant for the Paper Products Company… located on the north side of Franklin street, near the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington railroad”; in June 1909, the No. 17 Engine House on Ridgely Street near West Street; in March 1910, a house for George Doebereiner on North Avenue near Charles Street; and, in May 1911, a house for George W. Harrison on Longwood Road in Roland Park. 

  30. “Collapses On Street From Sudden Illness: Paul Emmart, Architect, Reported In Serious Condition At Hospital,” The Sun, October 2, 1927. 

  31. “Press Club Elects,” The Sun, December 22, 1912. 

  32. “Motion Pictures,” The Sun, February 9, 1913. 

  33. “With The Movies” The Sun, February 16, 1913. 

  34. Elizabeth Jo Lampl and Kay Fanning, “Movie Theatre/Dance Hall & Schanze Theatre (B-4482),” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form (Crownsville, MD: Maryland Historical Trust, 2009),

  35. “Another Big Movie House Planned For North Avenue: Structure Costing $500,000 To Be Erected On Block At Pennsylvania Avenue,” The Sun, December 4, 1921. 

  36. Maryland Historical Society,”The Durkee Theatre Ephemera Collection: 1922-1965 (Finding Aid),” Accessed February 13, 2018.

  37. Amy Davis, Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 57-59. 

  38. “Schanze’s Theater Newly Decorated,” The Sun, March 23, 1930. 

  39. Wickham, Dewayne, “The Pennsylvania Avenue of Long Past: Baltimore’s Harlem-Renaissance Strip,” The Sun, December 29, 1975; Karen Monson, “The Heyday of Pennsylvania Avenue,” The Sun, February 9, 1986. 

  40. Headley, Robert K. Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore: An Illustrated History and Directory of Theaters, 1895-2004. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013, 390-391. 

  41. Ibid. 

  42. Davis, Flickering Treasures, 59. 

  43. “Dr. F. W. Schanze Dies at His Home: Pharmacist And Theater Owner Had Been Ill For Year,” The Sun, January 11, 1944. 

  44. “Real Estate, Building News,” The Sun, April 23, 1944. 

  45. Lula Garrett, “Blizzard Fails to Dampen Social Ardor of Town Crowd,” Afro-American, March 8, 1947. 

  46. Donald Kirkley, “Theater Notes,” The Sun, November 2, 1947; “Amateur, Interracial Group Gives ‘Deep Are The Roots’,” The Sun, November 5, 1947. 

  47. “Novels Always In Vanguard Of Era, Howard Fast Asserts,” The Sun, January 24, 1949. The Baltimore Forum was one of a number of designated under President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Executive Order 10450 as "organizations of security significance" where members were ineligible for federal employment or military enlistment. 

  48. E. B. Rea, E. B. “Pennsylvania Avenue,” Afro-American, August 20, 1949, E. B Rea,. “Pennsylvania Avenue,” Afro-American, September 3, 1949. 

  49. E. B. Rea, . “Pennsylvania Avenue,” Afro-American. September 10, 1949. 

  50. “Morgan Theater Damaged By Fire,” The Sun, November 28, 1949. 

  51. E. B. Rea. “Pennsylvania Avenue,” Afro-American, September 9, 1950. 

  52. “Author To Speak On China,” The Sun, March 19, 1950. 

  53. “Classified Ad 29” The Sun, December 28, 1950. 

  54. “Classified Ad 1” The Sun, October 25, 1938. 

  55. “Joseph Wilson, Ex-Restaurateur in City, Dies at 87,” The Sun, February 12, 1984. 

  56. Davis, Flickering Treasures, 59. 

  57. “Voluntary Desegregation,” The Sun, June 5, 1959. 

  58. “Jackie Robinson Hails Colt Team as ‘Great,’” Afro-American, February 7, 1959. 

  59. “Photo Standalone 9,” Afro-American, March 21, 1959; Lula Jones Garrett “Gadabouting With Our Lula In Baltimore: Auxiliary ‘kicks off’ Tag Drive at Luncheon,” Afro-American, November 21, 1959. 

  60. “Anti-Race Feeling Costly,” The Sun, January 23, 1911. 

  61. J. E. L. “Fitting Them All Together,” The Sun, June 24, 1952. 

  62. The redevelopment of the first area resulted in the displacement of 37 white families. The second resulted in the displacement of 118 families (56 or 47% of them black) at a total cost of $3,538,686 in federal funding. Digital Scholarship Lab, Robert K. Nelson, and Edward L. Ayers, “Renewing Inequality: Family Displacements through Urban Renewal, 1950–1966,” American Panorama, accessed October 16, 2018, 

  63. “Police Plan is Dropped: Pine Street Station In Path Of Proposed Expressway,” The Sun, October 20, 1960; Calvin Corell and Sherry Eager, “Old Pine Street Station (B-3613),” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1984), The Baltimore Police department vacated the old Pine Street station in 1971 but the building was partially preserved. The rear wing housing the station’s jail cells was demolished but an adjusted route allowed the building to remain mostly intact. 

  64. Afro-American, June 1, 1968. 

  65. “Plans Drop Expressway Connector: Jones Falls, East-West Link To Be Replaced With Boulevard,” The Sun, June 15, 1968. 

  66. Carleton Jones, “$50 Million University Hospital Expansion Underway,” The Sun, March 9, 1969. 

  67. ”$35 Million For Urban Renewal,” The Sun., July 11, 1971. 

  68. G. Jefferson Price, 3rd, “City Offers Downtown Site for Social Security Offices,” The Sun, September 10, 1972. 

  69. “Classified Ad,” The Sun, June 3, 1972. 

  70. James D. Dilts, “City Hopes to Start Corridor Road Soon,” The Sun, October 10, 1972. 

  71. “Classified Ad 49,” The Sun, February 25, 1973. 

  72. Jack Dawson, “Bobby Ward Is Making a Name on Baltimore’s ‘Chitterling Circuit’,” The Sun, May 14, 1982. 

  73. Ronald Hollie’s spouse, Dr. Donna Tyler Hollie, led an effort in the 1990s to interview older members and compile a history of the Arch Social Club. Unfortunately, a fire at the Saratoga Street clubhouse in 1951 resulted in the destruction of many records from the early history of the club. 

  74. “Classified Ad 57,” The Sun, February 19, 1978.