American Beach Properties Preserved (FL)

Amelia Island, FL, 9/30/2005 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, finalized today a $2.275 million transaction with Nassau County that preserves 200 feet of prime beachfront property at historic American Beach, one of the few beaches in the southeast that was open to African Americans during an era of segregation laws.

TPL purchased the two properties in 2004 and held the properties until the county could acquire the necessary funds. They contain a multifamily residence and the legendary Evans’ Rendezvous nightclub, which will be the only oceanfront public building in Northeast Florida when fully restored. TPL helped the county obtain full funding for the acquisition from the Florida Communities Trust. Plans for the club’s restoration and future management are now being developed by county officials in collaboration with two community groups, the American Beach Property Owners Association and the nonprofit A. L. Lewis Historical Society.

In the early 1930s, A.L. Lewis, Florida’s first black millionaire and president of Florida’s first insurance company, the Afro-American Insurance Company in Jacksonville, bought 200 acres of prime Florida beachfront so his employees could enjoy the Florida shore. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, American Beach was the place to be for fun and entertainment. African-American families were given the opportunity each weekend to commute for a day at the beach on Amelia Island, or to own property there for full time residence or a weekend getaway. It was a place where the insurance company’s workers could escape the pace of the work week and where their families and friends could enjoy the beach free from the stress associated with segregation. Evans’ Rendezvous nightclub was an important anchor of the community, welcoming notable artists such as Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong.

Appropriately, Lewis’ great-granddaughter, MaVynee Betsch, is credited as the main force in saving the community from oblivion. Called the “Beach Lady,” MaVynee was a brilliant, eccentric and colorful figure that promoted, persuaded, lobbied and fought to preserve the public beach, Rendezvous Club and surrounding historic family homes.

MaVynne passed away on September 5. She lived long enough to see her struggles pay off but died before she could see the beach fully restored.

“The significance of American Beach has many dimensions,” said Susan Grandin, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Northeast Florida Office in Jacksonville. “A remarkable piece of American history and culture, the beach is also a beautiful natural resource. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of TPL, property owners large and small, public officials and private organizations, this resource will be protected for generations to come.”

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2 million acres of land in 46 states. In Florida, TPL has protected more than 300 sites – over 200,000 acres at a market value of about $500 million. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission. For more information please contact us at 850-222-7911 or visit us on the web at www.tpl.org.