McCollum Hall Had Historic Past

[caption id="attachment_6950" align="aligncenter" width="600"]mccollum hall fort myers By Ebyabe (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]The grand opening of the much-anticipated McCollum Hall took place in 1938 ushering in an Art Deco period building where men and women wearing tailored clothing danced to live music on polished floors. The 2,500 square foot dance hall named after Buck McCollum has been gutted and vandalized for decades. Located on the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Cranford Avenue, McCollum Hall has a storied past dating back to the 1930s and 1940s during the jazz era. While its glory days are long gone, the dance hall is now an eye sore but maybe not for long. With financial support from the city of Fort Myers and fundraising efforts by local residents, the goal is to restore the dance hall and add shops and a restaurant. The Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency will host an open house in the coming months following improvements to the McCollum Hall façade, and share design plans with local residents and potential tenants. According to living members of the Lee County Black Historical Society, big name bands played here in addition to other venues that allowed black entertainers: big names like Louis Armstrong, Otis Redding, Count Basie, B.B. King, and Duke Ellington. McCollum Hall was the USO for the black soldiers stationed at Buckingham Gunnery School and Page Field during World War II. White soldiers at a nearby USO would also come to McCollum Hall, although a rope across the dance floor divided the room between the two races. McCollum Hall became the upscale social heart of the community. Other businesses operated there as well, including a men’s clothing store, barber shop, coffee shop, grocery store and liquor store. Buck McCollum came to live in Fort Myers when he was 30 years old, and ran gambling bolita games, akin to the lottery. He used his winnings to invest in land, housing and commercial buildings on Florida’s east coast. He later financially backed men’s and women’s baseball teams. In 1998, the city of Fort Myers designated McCollum Hall a local historic landmark, despite its shoddy condition. In 2015, Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency awarded a special $500,000 grant to the architecture firm, Parker Mudgett Smith, to restore its façade. There are now fundraising efforts posted on a Facebook page to help the city of Fort Myers revitalize McCollum Hall.

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