Segregation-Era Haven Becomes Pompano Beach Cultural Center

Nov 12, 2015

A portrait of the Alis at the new cultural center.
Credit James Profetto / WLRN

  Pompano Beach has a new cultural center, in a home that has had roots in the city since the 1920s.

The Ali house was once a welcoming place to many African-American performers and musicians during segregation.

Laura Rawlings, daughter of the late Florence and Frank Ali, mentioned times when her mother’s room would be occupied by Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong.

“It just brings back memories of my mom and how I used to be sneaking in here — her room,” says Rawlings.

During the grand opening event on Nov. 5, guests were allowed to walk throughout the new Ali Cultural Arts Center and, if lucky, get a personal tour of each room by Rawlings.

“I really thank God for the person that saved this building because, you know, back then I didn’t have the money,” said Rawlings.

The money was exactly what was needed to keep the house from being torn down. The city had planned to raze the house and build a new establishment on the Alis' land unless there was a plan to remodel the house.

This is when Hazel Armbrister answered the call. She is an active in the Pompano Beach community and a friend of the Ali family.

“My connection to this building is its history. What the Alis did in this city — the people that came to them, were people in need,” said Armbrister.

Her voice was heard by the city. “[They] said, ‘But we’ve already let the contract.’ I said, ‘Cancel it.’ You can always cancel it. And that’s how this building got to stay.”

The cultural center was six years in the making. Sharon McCormick of Pompano's Redevelopment Management Association says it’ll serve more purpose than just a good story. She summed up in one word what she wants the city's residents to feel for it: pride.

“In a lot of cities you’ll see the exodus: kids will go off to college and they never come back home. One of the things that we strive to do is make places that people are homesick for,” said McCormick.

James Profetto is a student of Florida International University's Radio Storytelling class, taught by WLRN.