WEST PALM BEACH — Pleasant City, the oldest black neighborhood in Palm Beach County, has lost a treasure, at least for the time being.
The Pleasant City Heritage Gallery, a not-for-profit museum which chronicles the historic African-American community in West Palm Beach, went into foreclosure in August and has been sold to two investors in an online auction for $95,000, according to reports.
Everee Jimerson Clarke, author, historian, founder and curator of the gallery, at 87 years of age, spends her days sorting through a plethora of historic photographs, artifacts, books and other mementos and memorabilia inside the building at 2217 N. Dixie Highway.
The new owners told her to take her time moving out. larke opened the gallery in 1994 and next year would have celebrated 20 years of chronicling the lives of achievers, business owners, pioneer families and
historic moments celebrated in Pleasant City, a neighborhood of 28 blocks just south of the historic Northwood District. Its pioneers settled in the neighborhood around 1900.
The investors bought the building without knowing its history. When they learned it housed a museum with a storied past, they offered to sell it back to Clarke. She declined. “I need a bigger building anyway,” she said. “We had outgrown this place.” She hopes to start up again in another location but doesn’t know when. “We haven’t closed down for good by any stretch of the imagination,” she said emphatically.
With names like Cheerful Street, Beautiful Avenue and Contentment Avenue, Pleasant City was once a bustling little area north of downtown West Palm Beach.
Its early settlers lined Dixie Highway around 1900 and, during its heyday, black businesses dotted Dixie Highway and Spruce Avenue, two of the main thoroughfares, and all in between.
Today, Clarke notes, Pleasant City has only one black business. Re-zoning and a decline in support contributed to the closure of her gallery and the decline of the area, she said.
“Because black business concerns were not top priority, we did not get our foot in the door with a re-development plan for the economic system in our community,” she said. “Young people and some adults have no pride and appreciation for the community that many of us grew up with.”
The museum has a board of directors but Clarke says support dwindled much in recent years.
“We had classes and some grants and we don’t get any grants now and people don’t have any money,” Clarke said. She is hoping to get a new board of directors, “maybe some who are younger, with fresh ideas for raising money,” she said. Clarke said she grew tired of spending her own money to keep the museum afloat, so she let it go. According to a report in the Palm Beach Post, she owed $400,000 on the mortgage at the time of foreclosure. Clarke says that number is inflated. But whatever the number, a major slice of history is gone. “Although there are many who had to move away from Pleasant City, there are still many of us who understand, identify [with] and support our old city,” she said.
Her own family, the Jimersons, was among the pioneers in Pleasant City. She developed an appreciation for preserving the neighborhood’s history after she was appointed by then Florida Gov. Bob Martinez to the Broward County Historical Preservation Board of Trustees from 1989-92. She was approved by the Senate. Her work on that board inspired her to open the Pleasant City Heritage Gallery. .
“If anyone is interested in preserving the history of Pleasant City for the benefit of our children, we are interested in having them. I plan to come back bigger and stronger,” Clarke said.
Daphne Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org