Baker Center School
311 E. Charlotte Avenue
104′ w x 8.5′ h
Mural Creation Sponsors
In Memory of Dr. JV Cherian
Congregational United Church of Christ
Kelly & Pete Gaylord
The Patterson Foundation
Saint Mary Baptist Church
In Memory of Pastor Isaac Thomas Jr
Community Foundation of Sarasota County
Shively Charitable Foundation
Lt. Col. Scot & Jill Shively
Panel 9 – Entertainment
To listen to an audio presentation of the history captured in this panel, click on this video.
Mack Gollman Sr., originally from Newberry, South Carolina, moved to the small town of Punta Gorda in the 1890’s. He met and married Illinois Bailey whose family had moved here from Tallahassee. They had ten children (five boys and five girls).
The Gollmans became the first Black family to open a restaurant in town. It was known for its meal of stew beef, beans, and rice. They also purchased various real estate including five rental houses.
When Mack passed away in 1944, Illinois kept the businesses running. When WWII ended, she closed the restaurant and opened Gollman’s Bar. She added a ballroom called the Royal Palm Ballroom. Gollman’s Bar was located at the corner of Virginia and Cochran (now MLK Blvd) and served the local Black community. It was a safe haven for live entertainment in the segregated south.
The Gollman’s third son, Wilmer, opened a cafe next to the bar, serving food through a cutout to the bar.
The first big band to play at the Royal Palm Ballroom was an all-woman swing band called the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. They played jazz and swing on the national circuit that included the Apollo Theater in New York City, the Regal Theater in Chicago, and the Howard Theater in Washington D.C.
Another famous act who visited the bar was Little Willie John, a rock ‘n roll and R&B singer whose hits included “All Around the World” (1955), “Need Your Love So Bad” (1956), and his #1 hit “Fever” (1956). The bar was part of a network of Black owned bars that featured entertainment and food and were safe havens for traveling Black entertainers working the Chitlin’ Circuit to stop and eat on the way to Fort Myers’ McCollough Hall. Another entertainer who stopped at Gollman’s was B.B. King.
The Gollman’s second oldest child, Nathaniel, had a jazz band called “Nat and His Florida Stompers” who played at Gollman’s as well as throughout southwest Florida. Band members changed over time and included Berlin Bailey on saxophone and clarinet, Nathaniel Gollman on drums and other instruments, Walter Harris on piano, Thomas P. Hendrix on trumpet, and Renalder Ward on tenor sax and vocals.
On Friday & Saturday nights, people who came from Fort Myers, Arcadia, and other surrounding towns to “Down the Street,” where the Black businesses once thrived, to enjoy nightlife in Punta Gorda. Most enjoyed the music of the Florida Stompers at the Royal Palm Ballroom.
The Royal Palm Ballroom was also used by the neighborhood children on weekends as a roller rink. T
he bar closed around 1986 and most of the family moved to the Fort Myers area. The Gollmans donated the two lots of land where the bar once stood to the Blanchard House Museum. The museum building now sits where the Royal Palm Ballroom used to be. The bar would have been in the area in front of the museum, closer to the street.
Panel 9 of the new Local Black History mural features Nat and His Florida Stompers and Gollman’s Bar.