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Evans Rendezvous | Photo © 2017 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Evans Rendezvous

Location Class:
Built: 1948 | Abandoned: 2000
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (2004) African American Heritage Site
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

American Beach

Evans Rendezvous was a well-known African-American nightclub located on American Beach. American Beach was founded in 1935 by Florida’s first black millionaire, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, and his Afro-American Life Insurance Company. The plan was for his employees to have a place to vacation and own homes for their families by the shore. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, summers at American Beach were busy with families, churches, and children. It was a place where African Americans could enjoy “Recreation and Relaxation Without Humiliation.” The beach included hotels, restaurants, bathhouses, and nightclubs as well as homes and other businesses.

Evans Rendezvous

American Beach hosted numerous celebrities during this period, including Zora Neale Hurston, Billie Daniels, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Billy Eckstein, Hank Aaron, Joe Louis, Ossie Davis, and Sherman Hemsley. One of the most popular places to visit was the Evans Rendezvous, a 200-seat establishment that served food and drinks and was home to musical entertainment and dancing. Started in 1948 by Willie Brantley Evans, the Rendezvous operated continuously until 2000, when it closed. It’s said that James Brown was actually turned away from performing outside the Evans.

Advertisement for the Evans Rendezvous on American Beach. Bottom left is a photo of owner Willie B. Evans. Nassau County Official Site

Preservation Work

In 1964, American Beach was hit hard by Hurricane Dora, and many homes and buildings were destroyed. The passage of the Civil Rights Act that same year desegregated the beaches of Florida, and American Beach became a less and less popular vacation destination as more African American Jacksonvillians turned to locations nearer their homes.

A. L. Lewis’ great-granddaughter MaVynee Oshun Betsch, known to locals as the “Beach Lady,” returned to American Beach in 1977 to fight for its preservation. For years she planted trees along Lewis Street, offered historical tours of the beach, and fought to raise public awareness of the beach and its struggle. She wanted to make American Beach a monument to black Americans’ determination to overcome the obstacles of the Jim Crow era.

MaVynee Betsch, known locally as "the Beach Lady."

MaVynee Oshun Betsch, who was known locally as “the Beach Lady.”

American Beach is listed as a historic site by the National Register of Historic Places. The Trust for Public Land acquired Evans Rendezvous in 2004. There were plans in 2008 to renovate the building into a museum which included a 2,200-square-foot multi-purpose room that can be used for gatherings, such as seminars or family reunions, and a 1,000-square-foot oceanside open pavilion with sloped grass to the side that could serve as a seating area for concerts.

An early design included a snack bar, an outside dining area, a park, and a gift shop. Parking for about 35 vehicles would be across the street from the club. The plans also included a memorial to “Beach Lady” MaVynee Betsch, who passed away in September 2005. Although no work has been done to the building, there are still plans to make it happen.

You can read about Evans Rendezvous and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast.

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A black and white postcard featuring the Evans Rendezvous.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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