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Baltimore's historic Arch Social Club wins $118,000 grant

<p>The exterior of Arch Social Club near the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues.</p>

The exterior of Arch Social Club near the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues.

(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore’s Arch Social Club has been awarded $118,000 to help restore its historic marquee and make other improvements aimed at launching a new arts and entertainment district in the Penn North neighborhood.

The financial award was part of a National Trust for Historic Preservation public voting contest focused this year on giving grants to sites that celebrate the fight for equality. Arch was one of 25 sites to participate in the contest, coming in 11th place out of 11 sites to receive funds.

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A representative of Arch Social Club could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Arch Social Club was formed in 1905 and is said to be the oldest African-American social club in the city, and possibly the second-oldest in the country. The club was formed during an era of segregation to bring men together and strengthen the community, as well as provide a multipurpose venue for charity events and fundraising.

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Now, the haven itself — situated where nightclubs and music palaces once lit up the neighborhood — is a bit down on its luck. Its aging membership has dwindled from around 300 men in 1972 to 60, of whom about 20 are active. Its neighborhood is ravaged by drugs, with dealers and addicts loitering. But those remaining stay dedicated to their mission of promoting a particular view of masculinity and morals in a changing world.

The club served as a safe house and comfort station during the demonstrations that followed Freddie Gray’s death. In 2016, club members told the Baltimore Sun their membership had dwindled and the neighborhood was seeing an increase in crime.

Arch’s website states that through building a new theater marquee, the club will “serve to ‘shine a light’ on efforts to redevelop this formerly vibrant commercial corridor and welcome a new generation of activists, artists, entrepreneurs and patrons to ‘The Avenue.’”

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