NASHVILLE, TN — The renovation of the Elks Lodge social club on historic Jefferson Street will soon begin. The building was constructed in 1955 and originally housed Club Baron as well as the only skating rink in Nashville for African Americans.
Built during the golden age of Jefferson Street’s music scene (1935-65), Club Baron is the only existing nightclub from that time on historic Jefferson Street.
Pharmacists Jackson H. Brown, an African-American also lived on Jefferson Street from the 1930s through the 1950s and housed Brown’s Pharmacy there. He also owned Brown’s Motel where he operated an upscale dinner club.
Club Baron was best known as the celebrated site of a 1963 guitar duel between Legendary local blues guitarist Johnny Jones, a mainstay on the city’s Jefferson Street blues scene in the 1960s and a mentor to guitar hero the late Jimi Hendrix, an African American guitarist, singer, and songwriter.
The Elks Lodge was the most culturally significant music venue 1935-65 where musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Little Richard performed on their way to the apex legends of the music industry.
Other well-known performers at Club Baron over the years included Fats Domino, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Jackie Wilson and Ruth McFadden, Marion James, Queen of the Blues.
Now home to an Elks Lodge social club, the building is the last remnant of a golden era in Nashville music when Jefferson Street was the city’s premiere live music corridor for Black artists.
Jefferson Street once was lined with clubs where future icons and local legends would perform R&B, soul, jazz and rock music primarily for black patrons during the days of segregation. Marion James and Johnny Taylor and Jimmy Church were among the local stars who owned the scene between the 1960s and late 1970s. When the city decided to build Interstate 40 through Jefferson Street, the clubs suffered, and shuttered, including Club Baron. Today, there are no full-time live music venues on the road, but local organizers are hoping to change that.
The first step was to designate the Elks Lodge as a historic landmark district by Metro government and it was preserved by Metro as a local Historic Landmark in 2016.
Organizers also hope to add a statue of Hendrix, who lived and played in Nashville before he became an international star. The Hendrix statue was the brain child of James, who passed away passed away. .”The Club Baron, which is now the Elks Lodge, is the only building left on Jefferson Street that housed live entertainment,” said Lorenzo Washington, owner of the Jefferson Street Sound, a production company and small record label, and leader of the local movement to preserve Jefferson Street’s musical heritage. “Folks like Little Richard, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Jones played at the Club Baron. “It’s a major asset to the community to still have that club. And hopefully one day there will be some money to help remodel and refurbish that club, and hopefully eventually make that a dinner club. And we can bring that music back to Jefferson Street in that historical building that is still left on Jefferson Street.”
Washington opened a community museum which will accept donations to view photos, instruments, outfits and other relics from Jefferson Street’s historic past. He said James, another champion of Jefferson Street’s musical history and herself a successful Blues singer, wanted to commemorate the role Music City played in Hendrix’s career with a statue in front of the Club Baron.
The Elks — a national fraternal order of mostly men that is in cities across the country — has owned the former Club Baron building for the past three decades.
Navery Moore, who holds the title of exalted ruler of the Nashville Elks Lodge No. 1102, said the building today is used for Elks meetings five times a month as well as for Elks events on weekend nights.
“It’s the only black club from the original Jefferson Street area that’s still open,” said Moore, 73, a Tennessee State University graduate of 1966 who supports the proposed historic designation. “I think it will be good just by virtue of the historic footprint that it has on Jefferson Street.”
Metro Councilman Jeff Syracuse, who is the Associate Director, Customer Relations at Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and Metro Nashville Council Member District 15, and
Immediate past chair of the Blues Foundation, said the Club Baron served a crucial role in Nashville’s music history. He said that preserving the building will make the possibility of a Hendrix statue more likely. Hendrix frequently played at the Club Baron and other local venues, mostly as a supporting guitarist. Hendrix played in Little Richard’s band at the onset of his career.
“You could argue there would be no Jimi Hendrix if it wasn’t for Jefferson Street,” Syracuse said.
The history at the building isn’t all glamorous. There have been some criminal incidents over the years, and in the 1970s a Davidson County grand jury called the Club Baron the “crossroads of crime.” Its history also highlights the ugly side of segregation, since many of the talented artists weren’t able to play at other clubs in the city.
Awarding the former Club Baron building historic landmark district status would be the first time a Jefferson Street property has been recognized as such, marking an important milestone for the historically black, low-income Nashville neighborhood.
It also comes as Jefferson Street — which slowly deteriorated as a destination after the construction of Interstate 40 in the late 1960s and early 1970s ripped apart the neighborhood — has shown early signs of gentrification through new development.
As a historic landmark district, The Elks Lodge would be subject to review from the Metro Historical Commission for future exterior renovations, additions to the building as well as demolition. The district designation matches the same level of scrutiny as historic landmark overlays, but typically involves one property as opposed to an entire neighborhood.
. Marie Sueing, the Chief Diversity Officer with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. said “We felt that we needed to do whatever we can to preserve this building to help the Elks Lodge.
Sueing said they reached out and began fundraising to help restore and preserve the building.
“The first thing we needed to do was get the roof repaired, so that was the first major renovations that took place,” she said.
A new roof, floors, stage, and bathrooms were just some of the many things the NCVC were able to restore thanks to over $300,000 in donations.
“The overall goal first is to preserve the history of the building, but we also want to see music back on Jefferson Street,” said Sueing.
The hope is that life can come back to Jefferson Street, and with Club Baron making a reappearance, Jones has no doubt it can happen.