Half a million dollars going to renovate Evans’ Rendezvous at American Beach

evans rendezvous
The grant is just the beginning of the dollars needed.

More than 20 years after the historic venue closed, a $500,000 grant will fund “initial backbone improvements” at Evans’ Rendezvous at American Beach.

The money, an African-American Cultural and Historical Grant funded through the Florida Department of State, received approval this week by the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners and is now freed up to pay for work at the venue.

A key site for Black life in segregation-era Florida, the Rendezvous played host to some of the biggest musical acts of their day, including Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and James Brown.

The Rendezvous began in the late 1940s after Willie Evans sold his first club, Sunny’s Spot, to American Beach founder A.L. Lewis. Sunny’s Spot was next to Lewis’ home on Gregg Street and did round-the-clock business after Evans returned from his service in World War II.

Lewis offered Evans, in a trade, the Sunny’s Spot property for one a little further away. Evans operated the Rendezvous in a smallish building on the property for two years before building his 200-seat venue.

While operations continued into the late 1990s, the heyday of the Rendezvous ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which opened up previously Whites-only establishments, and the destruction wrought by Hurricane Dora. Nassau County acquired the property in 2004 through a partnership with the state and the Trust for Public Land.

The last round of work on the structure took place in 2011-2012.

“As a contributing resource to the American Beach Historic District, and to allow for continued use of the structure, the appropriate overarching treatment for Evans’ Rendezvous is rehabilitation,” according to the county’s 2022 historic structure report.

“This treatment approach is defined as ‘… returning a property to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, which makes possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those portions and features of the property which are significant to its historic, architectural, and cultural values.’ Despite alterations made to the building, Evans’ Rendezvous retains integrity and continues to convey its historic character.”

The American Beach residents who continue to advocate for the legacy of the community on the south side of Amelia Island are working to keep their voices as part of the process.

“We want to thank you all for all the work that’s gone into getting money to improve and make necessary repairs,” Pam McCorkle-Buncum of the American Beach Property Owners’ Association said to Commissioners. “We have spoken in the past about having some input in the plans that will be forthcoming for that building.”

She noted a task force dedicated to the project in 2018 represented the American Beach property owners, the A.L. Lewis Museum and Friends of American Beach. Those groups actively sought grants for the work. They also put on golf tournaments to raise money for the effort.

McCorkle-Buncum asked Commissioners to keep those stakeholders in the loop as work progresses, and there is a lot of work to be done. The grant is just the beginning of the dollars needed to build out the basic shell to get the structure into a condition to where renovation is possible.

“Today, we are simply executing the basic mechanical and operational improvements necessary to prepare for full renovation to meet modern wants and desires within the context of the state-approved management plan for the structure,” according to the Nassau County Manager’s Office.

“There has been no determination for the final improvements to the site and there is currently no funding available for further improvements to the site.”

The building lacks, and grant money is earmarked for, an HVAC system ($140,000), electrical work and basic electrical fixtures ($85,000), plumbing and basic plumbing fixtures ($80,000), a fire suppression system ($35,000), insulation ($25,000), new doors and windows ($15,000), and wall coverings like sheetrock ($35,000).

Repairing and replacing the flooring is anticipated to cost $45,000, with another $15,000 set for weatherproofing and repainting the exterior walls. Architectural and engineering services are pegged at $25,000, rounding out the $500,000 grant.

The roof also has to be replaced, and the boardwalk from the Rendezvous to the beach needs repair.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


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