Uptown Main Street Heart Bombs the Legendary ClubHouse DC

June 12, 2019 | Community Spotlight | Uptown Main Street “Heart Bombs” the Legendary ClubHouse DC |
Copy_of_REP03350.jpgPhoto credit: Uptown Main Street

On June 8, Uptown Main Street honored the ClubHouse DC, one of Washington DC's earliest gay-oriented social clubs. Community members, fans of the nightclub, historic preservation advocates, and champions for preservation of DC’s cultural heritage gathered at the location to spread awareness and love for the building and its legacy.

"Heart Bombing," an inspiration of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is the act of showering a historic place with visible expressions of affection and devotion to help spur efforts to protect the landmark for future generations.

In May 1975, the ClubHouse founders John Eddy, Morrell Chasten and Aundrea Scott opened the ClubHouse doors. With the help of a management team that included Paulette Scott and Rainey Cheeks, the ClubHouse was the most successful dance club project of the Metropolitan Capitolites. In the segregated, white-dominated Washington social scene of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, social clubs provided an essential entertainment and meeting space, as well as social networking opportunities, for African American gays and lesbians. The sense of the ClubHouse as a community space for African American gays and lesbians continued through to the 80’s and 90’s, as discriminatory admissions practices persisted in some of DC’s white-gay establishments.

Photo credit: Uptown Main Street

The ClubHouse’s role in the history of club music is well established. The ClubHouse and its DJs helped shape the house music genre as it emerged in the 80’s by creating their own DC style of house music. In addition, the club trained and employed a generation of DJs who carried the DC version of house music around the nation and the world. The legendary ClubHouse sound system and DJ booth installation also was widely copied. “We began with just two lights, a mere eight speakers and a large mirror ball in the middle of the room, but within a year we had the best sound system in the world,” recalls Eddy.

The ClubHouse was also an important center for LGBTQ activism in the District. The impact of the ClubHouse’s founder’s social activism continues to this day. Founded as a non-profit and throughout its history, the ClubHouse loaned its space to community organizations and its energies to important causes for the gay-African American community. 

In 1979, the club helped fund the Third World Gays Conference, which brought together Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American LGBTQ people to stimulate dialogue and encourage solidarity to confront the issues facing them as racial and sexual minorities, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In September 1983, the club founders lent their space, mailing list, and organizing ability to the first forum for African Americans on AIDS, jointly sponsored with Whitman Walker Clinic. Less than 18 months later, led by Cheeks, members of the ClubHouse team organized a holistic health response to AIDS that became “Us Helping Us,” one of DC's most important African American AIDS education and support organizations. Us Helping Us met at the ClubHouse until the club closed in 1990. Today, Us Helping Us, now located on Georgia Avenue NW in Ward 1, remains one of the largest HIV/AIDS public health organizations in Washington, DC. The group celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018.

There aren’t currently any active threats to the space, but Uptown Main Street is working with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office and local non-profits and educational institutions to landmark the building in the coming months.

To stay engaged with Uptown Main Street and our efforts to celebrate the many stories present along our commercial corridor, connect with us through our website: uptownmainstreet.org.

Submitted by Uptown Main Street