Civil Rights Site: Civic and Social Life - The Clubhouse

1296 Upshur Street NW

The ClubHouse (also known as the Clubhouse and the Club House), constructed in phases between 1930 and 1945, served as an automobile garage and showroom before becoming DC’s top African American dance club from 1975 to 1990. As AIDS became an epidemic in the early 1980s, the ClubHouse became a center for activism by LGBTQ racial minorities, and the focal point for the Black gay community’s response to the disease.

The ClubHouse was the third, and most successful, dance club project of the Metropolitan Capitolites, one of DC’s earliest gay-oriented social clubs. The Capitolites began throwing house parties in the 1960s, providing an essential entertainment and meeting space as well as social networking opportunities. The group opened the ClubHouse in the  former garage and showroom with 400 charter members, a number that swelled to 4,000. On weekends, 8,000 people lined up to enter the club.

During the 1980s, under the leadership of John Eddy, Morrell Chasten, and Audrea Scott, the ClubHouse was instrumental in creating an awareness of HIV and AIDS among African Americans. The club lent its space, mailing list, and organizing ability to the first AIDS Forum for Black and Third World Gays, jointly sponsored in September 1983 with the Whitman Walker Clinic.  This was one of the first events during the AIDS crisis where public health workers reached out to the African American community. Several in attendance expressed concern about inadequate reporting on the disease’s impact on minorities—40 percent of people with AIDS were Black.  

Less than 18 months later, ClubHouse staff organized a holistic health response to AIDS that by 1988 had become Us Helping Us, one of DC’s most important AIDS education and support organizations. Us Helping Us met at the ClubHouse until the venue closed in 1990; despite the club’s efforts to curb the spread of the disease, AIDS had dispirited the community and killed many of its members.

Later a nightclub for teenagers, the building currently houses the DC Vets Center. It was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) as part of a project focused on sites related to LGBTQ nightlife in DC.