Built in 1925, the Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach, Florida drew the biggest names in the jazz business: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and more.
At a time when the railroad tracks separated black from white, the Sunset Lounge and its musicians closed the divide—bringing blacks and whites together—cementing its place in Black History.
Unfortunately over the decades the area became blighted. The Sunset Lounge was no longer the draw that united the community, and it seemed that this historic site might be doomed for demolition.
Understanding the history and the unifying force this building had on the community, RMA, through their work with the West Palm Beach CRA, crafted a plan to reinvent the entire area.
Recently, City of West Palm Beach commissioners agreed to spend nearly $2.4 million on the historic Sunset Lounge and six neighboring parcels, in a plan to reinvigorate the Northwest neighborhood and attract tourism.
“In its heyday, the Sunset was the epicenter of culture in that part of the city. Our plan is to restore it, revive it and highlight it once again as the epicenter of the neighborhood. It will be the crown jewel in a redevelopment plan stretching several blocks into the economically depressed neighborhood,” said Jon Ward (RMA), the CRA’s Executive Director.
Ward, who says the deal closes in May, has big plans that include rebuilding the lounge beginning with the upstairs area, while creating a park around it with outdoor performance space, a gazebo and a walk of fame celebrating the many performers who graced the Sunset’s stage.
“Purchasing the Sunset Lounge is one part of a much larger plan,” said Ward. “Our goal is to make this is a cultural tourism destination, highlighting the area’s rich African American history.”