Since its inception, it has been a hub for Black cultural activity in West Baltimore, serving as a cornerstone for Baltimore’s African American civic, political and cultural life. Established in 1905 as a meeting hall for Black men in a then-segregated city, the club brought together tradesmen, laborers, clergy, professionals and entrepreneurs to craft strategies for addressing the issues of the day and into fellowship with one another. The club also served as a meeting place for the civil rights movement, hosting NAACP leaders Clarence & Juanita Mitchell, Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston and others. Built as a vaudeville and movie theater, fellowship at the Arch is often celebrated with music. In recent years, the Arch Social Club has also served as a safe-house and comfort station during the demonstrations that followed the death of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray and a food distribution site during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NDC began working with Arch in 2015 to support the members in restoring their home, a historic theater which requires a complete restoration, estimated to cost over $5 million. At the time, roof leaks were destroying the building and making it difficult to hold club events. From that simple start, a roof repair, NDC has continued to support the club through the years, both through our capacity building program, Place Matters, and our core program offering, Community Design Works.
When NDC first began working with the Arch Social Club, stabilizing the building was the main priority. As the leaders and members got to know us, though, we learned from them that building maintenance was part of a larger organizational challenge. At the time, the uprising in Penn North, right outside their front door, as well consistent high crime in the area was keeping customers away. Membership was aging, and without a strong program schedule, attendance at events was dwindling. We realized that we could offer additional capacity to the club in conjunction with our traditional design services.
One of the first successes in our partnership was when Arch secured all of the necessary funds to complete the roof renovation and have a historic structure report prepared. The roof stabilized the building, so that the members can have full access for booking events, which also gives them time to do additional planning. The Historic Structures Report provides a full plan for restoring the building with costs. In the end, we were able to work together with Arch, building invaluable experience, as well as bringing more than 90k in resources to the Club.
As we worked, a coalition emerged to collaborate on revitalization across communities along Pennsylvania Avenue, including Penn North, Druid Heights, Upton, and Sandtown-Winchester. NDC began joining for a bi-weekly meeting and supporting administrative tasks as requested, such as distributing agendas and taking minutes for this group. The group continues to meet, to build shared knowledge, boost events, and serve as a roundtable to address neighborhood issues such as drug use and trafficking, violence, vacancy, and lack of investment. Through this group, Arch has gained assistance in applying for grants, increased promotion of events, and made headway in creating a long-term support network.
From the biweekly convenings of the Pennsylvania Avenue Community Benefits Committee, a shared vision for a revitalized avenue emerged. An image of the avenue rebuilding from its strong roots in Black culture and solidarity gained focus with an initiative to create a state-recognized Black Arts and Entertainment District. Lady Brion (Brion Gill) and another local organization, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, joined the coalition and led the application process. NDC supported the application to the state, providing concept sketches and graphics. In 2019, the state honored the request, making Pennsylvania Avenue the first Black Arts and Entertainment District in the Maryland.
We identified several objectives to ensure the club’s future and revitalize the programming along with the building:
The total estimated value of the services and resources secured during the period of NDC’s partnership, not including NDC staff time, is about $380,000.
The Club has received additional state funding to renovate the lobby, drawing from original detailing to create an accessible and welcoming multi-use space. We will support this work through our traditional CDW services, or our new Arts Space Technical Assistance program.
In addition, Arch Social Club is now partnered with us under the T. Rowe Price Foundation’s EDGE program to understand operating costs for a fully restored building for long term planning of the capital campaign. This work with T. Rowe Price is only the beginning of bringing the Arch into stronger relationships with Baltimore’s foundation community.