Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Reopening of legendary St. Petersburg music venue the Manhattan Casino stirs memories


Gwendolyn Reese was too young to go to the Manhattan Casino before it closed four decades ago. Back then she could only listen to the buzz.

"We saw the excitement in the community because somebody was coming. B.B. King was coming," she said, "Sarah Vaughan was coming."

She remembers that adults put on their finest clothes or went out and bought new outfits entirely.

"This was like the focal point," she said.

On Saturday, Reese, now 62, planned to go to the newly reopened casino that once brought in so many musical legends and stood as the social hub for the community.

A celebration of the casino's reopening began Friday when a host of musicians, including many who had played during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, once again delighted a packed dance hall.

"Can you imagine a musical family reunion? That's kind of what it was," said LeRoy Flemmings. The 68-year-old saxophonist said he started going to the casino as a teenager and played there back in the day. "It's a good feeling playing for the home crowd."

Festivities continued Saturday with an all-day party, featuring live music, food stands and an open house. The weekend ends with a gospel brunch today, featuring a local chorus.

Throngs of people filled a grass lot Saturday, across the street from the historic building, listening to music. Many toured around the newly reopened venue.

The city spent $1.4 million to renovate it in 2005.

The Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S, was open from 1925 to 1968, bringing some of the biggest names in music to St. Petersburg.

"This was the heart of where the entertainment took place," Flemmings said. "Gospel, rock, blues, jazz. I mean, just anything that was music took place in this building."

The venue was located in a thriving business and entertainment district in the heart of an African-American neighborhood. It served as a facility for school and fraternal events, and provided one of the few segregation-era venues where black and white residents mingled.

Some hope that reopening the Manhattan Casino will help reboot the community's economy.

For many, the opening of the iconic dance hall was a long time coming — especially for those who grew up around the casino but were too young to get in.

Like Reese, Minson R. Rubin wasn't old enough to take part in the excitement. He would sit across the street and listen to a few minutes of the music when he could.

"It filled the community," said Rubin, now 66.

Mayor Bill Foster made the reopening of the Manhattan Casino one of his top priorities during his campaign and was there during Saturday's street festival and open house.

He called this weekend's reopening "special."

"It was kind of like stepping into a time machine because it's been closed for 40 years," he said. "When I think about the people who played the Manhattan — Dizzy, Louis, Duke, Ike and Tina, the greatest musicians in our history — and yet they weren't allowed to play anywhere else in St. Petersburg.

"It's a story of a past that we're not proud of, but it's a story of a future that celebrates music and diversity."

Reopening of legendary St. Petersburg music venue the Manhattan Casino stirs memories 10/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 29, 2011 11:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Carlton: A moment of sanity when citizens finally said no


    If you were looking for some small sign of sanity in the world, here's one courtesy of the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

    The Confederate memorial statue outside the old Hillsborough courthouse is now boxed up in plywood to prevent vandalism. Private donors have ponied up money to have the statue relocated to a cemetery. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  2. Review: Jason Aldean fires up a country-dude party at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre


    Country music has a dude problem.

    I’m not talking about the proliferation of mindless bro country over the past half-decade, nor am I referring to the fact that most of Nashville’s best music these days comes not from said bros, from female singers and songwriters.

    Jason Aldean performed at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Aug. 18, 2018.
  3. President Trump offers prayers for Kissimmee police


    President Donald Trump reacted to the police shooting in Kissimmee:

  4. Kissimmee police officer dies, one gravely wounded; Jacksonville officers shot


    KISSIMMEE — A Kissimmee police officer died and a second was gravely wounded Friday night, police Chief Jeff O'Dell said.

    Two police officers have been shot and killed in Kissimmee, authorities say. The shooting happened in the area of Palmway and Cypress around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. Photo courtesy of
  5. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.