Welcome to our new monthly blog series! One of our newest volunteers, Katarina Walther, has been digging into our collection to bring you stories from our online archive. We’re kicking off the month of February and African American History Month with a piece on The Clubhouse!
From 1975 to 1990, The ClubHouse existed as a focal point of gay African-American social life in DC. It was opened on Mother’s Day weekend 1975 by Aundrea and Paulette Scott, John Eddy, Chasten Morell, and Rainey Cheeks. The ClubHouse quickly gained popularity, with members coming from across the United States and even national borders. In addition to being a social space, the ClubHouse was also a community institution, hosting dinners, political rallies, and fundraisers.
As a dance club, it was renowned for its unique blend of disco and house music along with a distinctive style of blending songs into each other, the music never stopping. As with the music, lights and atmosphere were carefully mixed to create dance parties lasting until the sun came up. Most members arrived around 2 am and walked inside to find the 10,000 square foot dance hall filled with balloons.
Although created primarily as a space for DC’s gay and lesbian African American population, the ClubHouse’s mission extended to the whole community. Friday night parties were called ZEI and mainly catered to a straight audience, while Saturday night Vibrations parties were for gays and lesbians. The club also held an annual Halloween party, Mother’s Day dinners, and political rallies, including one for the campaign of former DC Mayor Marion Barry.
The ClubHouse especially worked to support the African American community. In 1979, the club hosted a fundraiser ball for the first conference of African American and Third World gays and lesbians. When the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, the club offered their space for the African American community’s first AIDS educational forum. That event shed light on the issue of HIV/AIDS affecting African Americans, thought before to only be an issue for white gay men. Additionally, manager Rainey Cheeks organized Us Helping Us, an organization that offered treatment to African-American men living with HIV/AIDs. Us Helping Us met regularly at the ClubHouse from 1985-1990.
The Clubhouse is listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey here.
Want to learn more? Visit our archival exhibition here! Do you have memories of The Clubhouse that you’d like to share with us? Maybe you have some old pictures from the annual Halloween party or want to share your oral history. Email us at info AT rainbowhistory.org