Celebrities, dignitaries and community leaders gathered on “Sweet Auburn” on Sunday, April 14, from 2 to 4 p.m. to celebrate 100 years of the historic Odd Fellows Building.
The event featured an installation of photos and memorabilia, anecdotes from people who are especially familiar with the building, and a musical tribute, as well as hors d’oeuvres.
The phenomenal growth of Black enterprise in the post-Civil War period was typified by the “Sweet Auburn Historic District.” The name Sweet Auburn was coined by John Wesley Dobbs and applies to Auburn Avenue, which was once called the “richest Negro street in the world.”
The Odd Fellows Building is one of the most architecturally unique of the business structures along Auburn Avenue.
Constructed in 1912 and dedicated by Booker T. Washington, the building was local headquarters of the Atlanta Chapter of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization founded in 1843 for African-American members.
It was one of the major Black entrepreneurial centers in America, with office space for Black doctors, dentists, and craftsmen in the tower, a 1,296 seat auditorium and an exquisite roof garden. It was the site of most of Black Atlanta’s elegant dances and social functions during the 1920s and 1930s.
For example, the building once housed the Royal Peacock Club, one of the city’s premier African-American music venues early in the 20th century. Originally named The Top Hat Club, the Royal Peacock Club officially opened its doors in 1938, hosting both local talent and national acts, including Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, the Four Tops, Ray Charles, James Brown, Sam Cook, Jackie Wilson, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Joe Lewis, Jackie Robinson, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner and Atlanta’s own Gladys Knight.
It also housed the Yates and Milton Drugstore, where African-American teens gathered to sip sodas and eat ice cream.
The Odd Fellows is presently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This six-story brick building is noted for the unique terra-cotta figureheads with their African features. These figures are located on opposite sides of the entrance and are clearly visible to the passerby or visitor.
A portion of all financial gifts for the invitation-only celebration will be donated to the Apex Museum for the continued preservation of the history and legacy of The Odd Fellows Buildings and Auburn Avenue. To learn more about their work, visit http://www.apexmuseum.org/.