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LGBTQ History in the Capital
Item 7 of 7
In the 1970s, the queer Black community in Washington tended to gather at house parties to avoid discriminatory practices at white bars. Social group the Metropolitan Capitolites founded The ClubHouse in 1974 and it opened in 1975 in this space, a former garage and warehouse. Individuals seeking admission were required to apply for membership. The original 400 members ballooned to several thousand over the next decade and a half. In addition to its parties, The ClubHouse was involved in LGBTQ and AIDS activism and politics. After The ClubHouse's closure in 1990, the site held another club, but has been vacant for several years.

  • North facade of what was once The ClubHouse. Photo by Lisa P. Davidson, HABS (public domain)

This building, originally holding a garage, dates back to 1935-1940, but its significance comes from its role as home of The ClubHouse beginning in the 1970s. Metropolitan Capitolites, a group for queer Black Washington residents, founded The ClubHouse here in 1974. This group had been throwing popular house parties, an alternative to the sometimes racist Washington gay bar scene, but needed a larger space. Even after opening two bars, the Zodiac Den and the Third World on Riggs Road, they still needed a larger venue.

People who wanted to go to The ClubHouse had to apply for membership to the Metropolitan Capitolites. Aundrea and Paulette Scott, John Eddy, Chasten Morell, and Rainey Cheeks, along with 400 charter members, opened the club as a nonprofit in 1975; over time, membership grew higher than 4,000 people. Members could bring guests as well, and a typical weekend could bring 800 people to the club per night. Attractions included the club's in-house dance troupe; sound system installed by audio engineers from Studio 54; high-profile DJ performances; and celebrations like Mother's Day and Children's Hour. Party names included Black Hole at the End of the Universe, Land of Oz, Zodiac parties, Halloween costume parties, and A Spaghetti Party. The ClubHouse was instrumental in bringing house music to the capital city.

As with several other contemporary LGBTQ businesses in the District of Columbia, The ClubHouse also served a second purpose as an activist space. In 1979, the club founded the Third World Gays conference. Mayoral candidate Marion Barry frequently stopped at The ClubHouse during his campaigns, seeking support from its community, and the club held fundraisers for him. The club was involved without other political campaigns as well, including a cocktail party for the 1980 Carter-Mondale campaign. In the 1980s it took a strong role in AIDS activism, and manager Rainey Cheeks hosted meditation sessions and self-help workshops for those living with HIV/AIDS. The club connected public health to the gay community.

The HIV/AIDS crisis rampaged through the queer community in the 1980s, and at least 600 members of The ClubHouse perished in this time. Heterosexual patrons' numbers dwindled at the same time, and the club closed in 1990.

Bailey, Amber. 1296 UPSHUR ST, NW (The Clubhouse), Historic American Buildings Survey. 2016. Accessed July 19th 2020. https://www.nps.gov/places/upload/The-ClubHouse-1.pdf.

National Park Service. The ClubHouse, Washington, DC, National Park Service: Places. December 17th 2018. Accessed July 19th 2020. https://www.nps.gov/places/clubhouse-bar-washington-dc.htm.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

https://www.nps.gov/places/upload/The-ClubHouse-1.pdf