Stop 80: The 1957 Jake’s Lakeside Tavern to The Cow Palace
FORMERLY KNOWN AS JAKE’S LAKESIDE BAR. DISCLAIMER: THIS STOP IS A QR STOP ONLY! AT PRESENT THE HISTORICAL LOCATION IS PRIVATELY OWNED AND UNDER RENOVATION. NO TRESPASSING SIGNS ARE POSTED AND ONE CANNOT VISIT THE SITE. PLEASE ENJOY THE HISTORICAL REVIEW THAT FOLLOWS.
This historical marker details the history:
This club, located within the African American neighborhood of Carver Heights, was built in 1957 without heat or air conditioning. The club featured a spacious dance floor, and a bar with native cypress woodwork and ornate Spanish tiles. At various times, it operated under different names, including Jake’s Lakeside Tavern, and The Cow Palace. The club served as a stop on the fabled Chitlin’ Circuit, a network of African-American music venues throughout the southeastern United States that National Public Radio stated “provided employment for hundreds of Black musicians and brought about the birth of Rock ‘n Roll.” The club attracted some of the biggest names in blues, soul, and R&B music including internationally famous performers as James Brown, B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Buddy Guy. The Cow Palace is recognized as one of the state’s last surviving stops on the Chitlin’ Circuit in Florida and served not only as a top entertainment venue, but a point of pride for the local African-American community.
A Florida Heritage Site, sponsored by the Chitlin’ Circuit Preservation Society, and the Florida Department of State, 2021.
Built in 1957, the sizable building of 4,538 square feet (60 feet by 80 feet) was constructed of concrete block without heat and air conditioning. Owned by Shantia Brown since 2014, Pasco County Property Records indicate The Cow Palace was a part of Carver Heights and first developed by Stanley Cochrane in 1946 (whose work you learned of on Stop 75 and in regard to the shotgun houses of Dade City history.) The irony of the subdivision’s name from George Washington Carver is not lost as Carver was a renowned Black scientist and professor at Tuskegee University who significantly impacted botanical innovations as well as race relations.
Seventy-three-year-old Warren Godbolt, a primary historical source, recalled the appearance of the place in the heyday. With no finish except a few coats of white paint on the carefully masoned blocks, Godbolt explained there was a single front door and back door—one way in and one way out. The roof was a conventional slope.
When asked if Jake’s Lakeside Tavern later to be dubbed The Cow Palace, had any identifying signage, Godbolt related that most Black establishments in that era were not labeled with signage. Godbolt added that a large parking lot provided ample parking space in the front. The windows of the building on the north provided a spacious view of lovely Ferguson Lake.
A part of the Chitlin Circuit, The Cow Palace was one of assorted night clubs, dance halls, or theatres across the Midwest to the Southeast, with many in Florida, where legendary African American performers and their audiences connected during segregation. The circuit offered employment for hundreds of Black musicians for approximately twenty years.
Billy C. Wirtz exclaimed the circuit was “an explosive incubator of some of the greatest blues and soul music ever played while offering Black musicians safe lodging, food, and on-the-job training,” in the Florida Humanities Council article, “Traveling Down the Chitlin Circuit,” of May 9, 2022.
The Chitlin Circuit was vast across the US, and Florida with its year-round good weather and well-established Black communities was especially fertile ground that boasted venues ranging from the Two Spot in Jacksonville; Sarah’s Restaurant and the Cotton Club owned by Sarah McKnight in Gainesville; South Street Casino in Orlando: Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg known for Louis Armstrong’s performances, The Harlem Club in Miami, and the Club Eaton in Eatonville. Bobby Rush, known as the King of the Chitlin Circuit said there were at least three dozen circuit stops in the Sunshine State (including the Cow Palace).
The recent USF exhibit on the Chitlin Circuit profiled the era and Valerie Simuro explained that there was an unwritten rule followed by performers on the circuit. They would only play in a city that had or was near a Black radio station.
ORIGIN OF NAME
Jim Crow years were hard for Black musicians to earn a living thus the Chitlin Circuit was safer for African American musicians to perform. The inception of the name Chitlin Circuit was a colloquial term. Chitterlings were associated with Black slave culture before the Civil War. The stewed pig intestines or leftovers from slaughtered pigs were stewed and fed to the slaves and became a part of soul food, and are in fact quite tasty!
BEFORE CHITLIN (TOBA)
The Chitlin Circuit originated in part from late 19th century Black Vaudeville, and became formalized in the early 1900s with the Theater Owners Booking Agency (TOBA) which booked Black entertainers. The artists jokingly coined TOBA as “tough on black asses,” but nonetheless the agency was utilized as the main Black booking organization from its inception in 1909 until its demise during the Great Depression.
Following TOBA, the Circuit used Globe Posters, the same ones used for professional wrestling to announce concerts. The posters were tacked to telephone poles and posted in windows of shops frequented by Black clientele. Local resident Warren Godbolt remembered the posters he believed to be printed in New York being quite spectacular.
The local newspapers such as the Dade City Banner and the Zephyrhills Colonist largely did not cover information on the Black community. A look through archives reveal that Blacks were largely not identified by name in news-worthy coverage and social columns did not offer information on the community. In the USF study, Simuro added that most news in the African American community was conveyed via flyers in church bulletins, word of mouth, or listening to the radio.
By 1948, WLAC, an AM station in Nashville had a 50,000-watt clear channel that went from south Florida to the Midwest. The DJs spoke in Black hipster jive and played nothing but the latest Black blues and soul as the station launched many careers such as James Brown, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin. They helped book many of the musicians to the Chitlin Circuit where the Black hits were being played.
THE CULTURE AT THE PERFORMANCES
The Chitlin Circuit provided an avenue for African Americans to create something beautiful from something ugly in the years of segregation. During the decades of the 1950’s and 1960s, the Chitlin Circuit thrived until the advent of disco put Black performances in white venues. As New Orleans was the home to jazz, the Chitlin Circuit was the birthplace of rhythm and blues.
Getting to the locations of the Chitlin Circuit was challenging. Racism was rampant and the performers had to think of safety and sometimes survival. Compounded by the fact that the interstate system was not fully developed, the back roads were confusing with directions navigated primarilyy by landmarks or billboards. Crammed in station wagons or small buses, the travel was not luxurious.
Irma Thomas known as the Soul Queen, described how “We often followed the crops that were being picked. Somebody would rent a hall and throw a show for the pickers.” There were few Black motels…only the Jackson House in Tampa and Sun-Glo Motel in Orlando. As for back-up bands, only a few performers could afford to pay for them such as James Brown and Joe Tex. Others paid a road band or relied on a farm team. Frequently, artists from local churches filled in.
Audience participation was not unlike the format of traditional Black churches as responses were given by the audience. Bobby “Blue” Bland was particularly well known for this trend. It was said that every line Bland sang was followed by a response from the audience.
Dr. Charles Beattie known as Dr. Blues, a PhD in the music department of FSU, explained that for the cost of one or two dollars, the show was quite spectacular. Many of the performers had a gimmick of some type—a comedy routine or skit. Franklin Williams who appeared with Bill Pinkney and the Drifters liked to do the Buzzard Dance or the Camel Walk.
Billy C. Wirtz remembered the spectacular appearances of the performers. “It wasn’t just music but the look! Muddy Waters looked like a ruler from some incredibly cool universe. His sky-high hair, styled in the chemically processed ‘conk’ of the time, glimmered. He wore a purple sharkskin suit, wraparound shades, and black patent leather grain Beatle boots. Wow…Muddy wore patent-leather, razor-toe, Cuban-heeled footwear to work!”
Another example was Bobby “Blue Bland with his sharkskin suit, wraparound shades, forest-green crocodile loafers, and conked hair gleamed with pomade. Wirtz also recalled that on another occasion, Bland appeared in a white suit and electric blue snakeskin boots.
It was a fashion show as well as musical event, boasting an entire swamp full of alligator hide footwear dyed into colors unknown to the rainbow spectrum, said Wirtz.
Attendees were also expected to look sharp at the shows. Black owned barbershops and salons had enhanced sales before a performance.
FSU Music Professor, Charles Beattie rebuked the image given to the Chitlin Circuit by some contemporary pieces like the 1978 movie, Animal House that implied the concert halls were dangerous places. Beattie said the performers were held to a high standard.
That is not to say, however, that there was no rowdiness and even occasional clandestine activity. The Cow Palace was constantly doing battle with the licensing agencies for serving liquor and cited a few times for serving alcohol after hours for not being licensed. Sarah’s in Gainesville also had her license nonrenewed in 1952. The inequities of the Jim Crow south may very well have added to the complexities.
The Cow Palace did have some violent events however. The first manager, Jake Davis was murdered in his sleep by his wife, Idella in 1960 over a domestic issue. In 1971 James Dunner was charged with shooting Rudolph Hill following a fight at the Cow Palace. J.P. Eddie Haynes was charged with murdering Dorothy Calloway outside the Palace in 1974. J.D. Cowart shot Benton Bell there in 1987, while in 1989, a gunfight between James Rahming and Willie Bradberry took place at the Palace.
“You walk into the place, and you realize it has a special feel to it,” Scott Place said. “It screams to have music played in it again.” A Blues musician who performed under the stage name, Howlin Buzz, he formed a non-profit Chitin Circuit Preservation Society. Sadly, Place passed away in 2023.
Jeff Jeter put together a Go Fund Me campaign to obtain donors throughout the state to fund a historic marker for the location. A six-year journey thus far, Jeter continues as an advocate for the preservation efforts.
The legacy is important to the history of the community. As Warren Godbolt describes witnessing the performance of James Brown at the Cow Palace when he was a fourteen-year-old, one cannot help being mesmerized by the experience and the impact that places on the Chitlin Circuit had on Rhythm and Blues.
Other artists mentioned believed to have performed at The Cow Palace included:
Buddy Guy, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Tina Turner, Joe Tex, Little Milton, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy.
…Folks could hear the music outside as they passed the open pastures on the outskirts of Dade City. It was a popular “juke joint,” one of several such establishments in Florida that were vital to traveling musicians!