The year was 1905 and some of Baltimore’s prominent gentlemen were looking for a place to congregate together. When they were rejected from establishments catering to White men, they decided to start their own socialclub.
That’s when the Arch Social Club was born and for more than a century, it has served the Black men of Baltimore seeking entertainment. The club was officially chartered on March 15, 1912.
These days, the Arch Social Club is still open for business. To honor their rich legacy and to celebrate the recent renovation of the club and the launching of its website, members gathered last month for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration.
Under a renovated façade, members commemorated the founders and the role the historic institution has played in Baltimore’s proud Black history. The Jan. 19 event drew the club’s leaders and supporters, as well as city officials including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) and Del. Melvin Stukes (D-Balto.) and former Mayor Sheila Dixon.
“The Arch Social Club always had an important place in Baltimore history,” said Brother Kaleb Tshamba, chairman of the Arch Social Club’s Board of Trustees. “It was the place where Black men could meet when others turned them away. There are still activities there, such as hand dancing, which includes women. We are still very much here.”
Tshamba said the renovation including giving the club, located at Pennsylvania and North, a facelift.
“We took the façades and made them to look like they did back in 1912,” he said.
Officials said today’s Arch Social Club includes about 60 members. There are 15 officers, including seven who are members of the board of trustees. They are trying to recruit younger members to keep the tradition going, officials said.
The club was founded by Raymond Coates (1873-1924), Jeremiah Hill (1858-1929) and Sam Barney (1863-1938), who dedicated the club to “the social, moral and intellectual uplift of its members, and in order that charity may be practiced in a Christian-like spirit and true friendship and brotherly love be promoted and maintained,” Tshamba said.
Over the years, members have included preachers, educators, musicians, barbers, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, business leaders and politicians.
Donna Hollie, 71, of Baltimore, said she first went to the club when she and her late husband, Ronald, were dating—many years ago. He was president of the club for eight years. When she was younger, she used to go to the club two or three times a month
"It was a completely Black owned and operated club, which, at the time, was completely unheard of to me,” she said. “They had all live music at the time, and both men and women were treated with respect. It was just a fun place to be."
Hollie, who is retired from Baltimore city social services, credited the club with building Baltimore’s jazz scene. She said musicians were grateful to play there because it had an actual concert hall, unlike many venues.
"Lots of very well-known jazz musicians, many who have passed away, have played there, and said they enjoyed playing there," she said.
Tshamba, 64, who was born and raised in Baltimore, is a retired military veteran and glass worker. He joined the club in 1998, and was immediately drafted into the board of trustees. He was later promoted to chairman, and has served in that position for 12 years.
Tshamba said the Arch, the social group that runs the club, has been active in helping the people of Baltimore for generations.
“The club was formed to be of service to the community, to preserve that culture and to promote brotherhood,” said Tshamba, adding that the club has donated money to the fund churches, created scholarships and built playgrounds for the youth of Baltimore.
The Arch Social Club still offers regular activities, including hand dancing and line dancing classes, dance nights, and concerts featuring various musical acts, typically jazz and blues. While it is referred to as a men’s club, many women attend the events.
Delly Alexander, 59, who grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Baltimore County, said she has attended events for years.
"Considering the extensive history of the club and all the members they've had, I'm glad that it is still around,” she said. “I'm happy that they are recruiting new people and trying to get a better network. I'm glad that they are renovating, instead of closing, like a lot of the other historic places around here, because it's a really nice place to go."
The Arch Social Club is currently looking for new members, including younger men, to build more of a versatile network, Tshamba said.
“We want the type of numbers that the club had back in the day,” he said.