Etta James and Louis Armstrong and tons of other musicians crooned and delighted packed houses of St. Pete residents at the Manhattan Casino. And down the street, kids (young and old) craned an ear, taking in the sweet music.
That very same building is still around today. You may have driven by the pale yellow two-story storefront while heading over to Chief’s Creole Cafe or the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. But how well do you know its story?
The birth + heyday of the Manhattan Casino
Back in 1925, one of the Burg’s first Black businessmen, Elder Jordan Sr., arranged with a contractor to have the 12,000-sqft hall built in South St. Pete. Completed in 1931 and originally named the Jordan Dance Hall, the entertainment venue was a space where African Americans could enjoy performances during segregation. The spot became a fixture on the so-called Chitlin’ circuit, hosting performers like Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and James Brown, according to St. Pete Catalyst.
The performance hall was just one part of the Deuces, the 22nd Street South area that was home to thriving Black-owned businesses like Henderson’s Sundries and Moure’s Barber Shop Delux. Post big-band era, the venue hosted more local acts and events like Goldie Thompson’s gospel shows.
The performance venue closed its doors in 1968. The city purchased the historic casino in 2002, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
But what’s next?
Most recently, the bottom level of the venue was occupied by the 22 South Food Hall, which served everything from Italian wedding soup to barbecue. The operator, Urban Collective’s five-year lease on the building ended and the hall served its last brunch November 28.
Earlier in November, the city hosted a community conversation about the property’s future, so residents could share their ideas and opinions on the about landmark’s future. About 200 residents attended, telling the city they wanted the building’s history to be honored, affordable event space in South St. Pete, a space for live performances, and restaurant space. Attendees also told leaders they’d like the Casino to function under a city-community partnership and the city to be responsible for repairs and upkeep.
Right now, the building’s future remains unclear. But the city announced the Casino will be closed for the next several months so crucial upgrades can be made, like installing a new HVAC system and making elevator repairs.
Learn more about the Manhattan Casino by embarking on the African American Heritage Trail walking tour or by St. Pete Black History Bike Tour, a free five-mile, four-hour guided tour.