Rayceen Pendarvis Clubhouse Oral History Interview


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Table Of Contents

Reason for ClubHouse
Clubs and gathering places
Place to be free
Children’s Hour
The People
The songs!
Places in DC: Franklin Park, 70 ???
Black Pride
Tool of AIDS

Date Created

February 2020


Digital Recording , transcription available upon request


Oral History, and Transcription



Accrual Method

Recording Interviews

Rights Holder

The Rainbow History Project


RHP: Okay...Umm. I'm going to start by asking...you grew up in D.C. Where did you grow up in D.C.? Just tell me a little about that.

RP: I'm a native Washingtonian. I live and grew up in Ward 5. That's where my family lived. My grandmother lived. And, my early years, I grew up in the 8th U Street corridor on 13th street. In the days of when U street was considered the "Black Broadway." You know, the wonderful experience of the U street Corridor...Thank you...

RHP: Now moving on to the ClubHouse questions. Can you describe the ClubHouse in your own words for me?

RP: Oh my god. In my own words, how do I describe the ClubHouse? It was liberating. It was magical. It was freeing. It was amazing. It was a place where people gathered--all colors, all genders--and celebrated the liberation of freedom, music, and just...to be themselves. It was a place where once you got through the door, it was "welcome to the world of happiness." It was a beautiful place, it was a loving place. The deejays were the minstrels of the orchestra and the dance music was the beat of life. And the dancers--we celebrated in movement, in rhythm, in freedom, and in love.

RHP: Okay, when was the first time you went? Can you describe...?

RP: Oh, chile, I can't even tell you, it's been so long. I can't even remember the very first year. I guess I was always there from the very beginning. From the days when the doors were opened. I was always there. You know, the one good thing about the ClubHouse was it was just a place that was full of love. And what I love mainly about it is, you know, everyone [inaudible] kind of knew where they were going. When it's Saturday night, you'd prepare. You had to put on some music and get your outfit ready. You had to twirl, honey. And you had to have everything right. Some children came dogs to the nines(??) and then the girls would have their backpacks. And in your backpack you would have your key elements: a whistle, baby powder, some stretch pants, or some leg warmers. You would go into the bathroom and change like Superman or Wonder Woman. Then you would come out, honey, and you would be ready. You would come out to dance and just feel the music.

My first experience coming through the doors, was just...I knew I belonged there. I knew this place was me. This was my tribe. Led by the music, but led by the people. And I remember you needed a membership to go in. People would stand outside and say, "Hey, do you have a membership? Can I get in with you?" And they [the bouncers] would say, "How many with you Rayceen?" And I would say, "Twelve."

I always had a way of getting people in. I would always take them like two-by-twos or three-by-threes or four-by-fours. I felt like Noah parting the...preparing us to get into the Ark, but it was wonderful. And then, you know, I never had a membership. I had one later, you know, I never really needed one because I was always friendly and kind to everyone. And if you gave love, then people would give you love back. Once I got my membership, honey, I would dash out every twenty minutes to get a group of girls. I'd say, "Okay, now, Miss Stacy, twelve to two, I'm coming out to get you. After two oclock, mother is twirling."

So, it was wonderful. It was just a great experience. I loved the ClubHouse because...especially at the time, it was a time of liberation. We were coming through...right after the March on Washington [for Jobs and Freedom], the assassination of King, of Malcom X, of Robert Kennedy...It was just a place where people, after all of that, we breathed. We lived. We celebrated life again. And LGBT people--LGBTQIA, honey--it was a place, honey, that we could call our own. We were the kings and queens of the dance floor. And we ruled it and ruled it well. I think that [inaudible] the ClubHouse was like going to Buckingham Palace.

RHP: Okay!

RP: And we were the Royal Family. All of those who entered those doors. So it was just a wonderful experience.

RHP: [5:00] Do you remember the last time you went? Did you go to the closing party?

RP: Oh, I did. The closing party...oh my god, it was like losing a family member.

RHP: Mhmm.

RP: It was like...I can't explain it. It was sad, but yet it was... It was sad, but yet it was full of love in the place. People were...we were hugging each other. We were loving each other. We were telling each other how much we cared. And it was...even though that era was closing, and we felt like it was a death of a loved one, we knew it would never die. That once you came into the ClubHouse, you took a part of it with you. The experiences, the conversations, the dance--we used to kick and twirl--honey, let me tell you. I remember jumping down the steps, honey, or jumping over the balcony, jumping onto the speaker and falling into a split, honey.

You know, the girls had nothing on me, honey. We would carry on, and I remember some Tony Nelson, Beverly White, Miss Gracious, Miss Oh-ki-Oh, Jeffrey Aas, Mandrill, Jay Day, Tito, Andre, Scott...You know, so many people would give us--you know, Reverend Rainey Cheeks, you know, all of us--it was a place full of love that everybody that you knew was apart of your life. It was a part of...we were a family. You know, it was Debra, the girls--you had the ClubHouse?? [inaudible?] girls, you had the cheerleader girls, you know.

It was just amazing. I have so many fond memories of...and the closing night was something that will always be near and dear to me because even though it was ending, it was in my heart. Etched in my heart. And I carry the ClubHouse...certain songs. "You Make Me Feel [Mighty Real]" by Sylvester, over and over. "It's a Love Thing," honey. "It's Not Over," by [!!] [Inaudible]. Certain songs, when you hear, you think about where you were and what you were doing in the ClubHouse.

I remember when Tramaine Hawkins came and served the children's son--[inaudible--all damn?] and took us to church.

RHP: Who?

RP: Tramaine Hawkins of the Hawkins family, she had a fabulous song called "All Damn, Honey" and the children would fall down. "I see the shallow,” oh honey. "Pillows of smoke fall down on me." It was a wonderful song that the ClubHouse would bang it and have an A Capella version. It would drop the music and bring it back in and, oh honey, we used to give life, honey. I mean, it was like church. You would have church. And we would leave and go home. And some would go to church...and the experiences that we would have leaving the ClubHouse...the queens would get on the 70 bus and ride downtown and the party would continue, honey. We would meet in Franklin Park and wouldn't go home till 12 or 1 in the afternoon. And just the experiences...you know, it was so many fond memories. So even though that closing night was saying "goodbye," it was just saying, "until I see you again." [8:20]

RHP: Mmm. Can you talk more about what happened at Franklin Park or...?

RP: Oh, I mean, it was...Franklin Park was the gathering spot. It was downtown, it was near the Brass Rail. Which was another famous club. But Franklin Park was a place where Black gays always gathered. One end was the queens and the transexuals--on the other end was the prostitutes and the pimps. And in between was the drug dealers. And if you would walk the gamlet of Franklin Park and not get beat, robbed, or read, you have successfully passed the test.

So it was like, you know...you had to walk, you couldn't run. Some kids would run in the middle, but you had to walk from one end to the other end. And if you came through it, honey, you were all right. My ability to survive Franklin Park was that I could read and I was funny and quick on my feet. So, I always had a clever read for anyone who would come for me. And I would always leave laughter, and have you laugh. So, it was a wonderful experience. [9:20].

RHP: Can you talk more about why you...what you know as to why the ClubHouse was created or built or...?

RP: I mean it was a place we called our own. [Crosstalk] It was somewhere that Black African Americans people, somewhere we took pride and joy that, saying, "This is our house." Created by, celebrated by us. You know? It was a place at that time...during all...when it came about we were in a movement of Black Liberation.

RHP: Mhmm

RP: A Black, Queer, and LGBT Liberation. [10:00] We were dancing to the beat of the music and creating. We were marching, twirling, and we were experiencing something that has never taken place before. It was a liberation of freedom and how people owned their own. And collectively created our own safe spaces. Where we could be free. Because, mind you, everybody couldn't be free at that time.

RHP: That's true.

RP: Some folks were not open on their jobs, and were living life throughout the week where they were very suppressed. But when Saturday night came--midnight struck: They would turn into the belles of the ball, honey. They put on their ball gowns and twirl, and they would become free and they would become liberated. Then come Monday morning they would put their suit and ties on, and they march and they lived this world that people looked at them one way and had no idea who they were, or how they celebrated themselves. Not that some folks were hiding, it's just sometimes out of fear and necessity of survival. Fear can take care of your life, your family. And fear of understanding that everybody might not understand who you are. But at the ClubHouse there was no pretension. There were no guidelines. Everyone was welcome. Once you entered the door, it was a safe space. And all were welcome and invited to the party. There was no one who was saying, "Miss Thang,"...there is no guest list, Ta-Da! Everybody was welcome.

RHP: Until capacity was hit.

RP: Thank you. And they would still wait. And they would stand outside and wait for the girls to come in. And there was a Children's Hour.

RHP: We're going to get to that.

RP: We're going to the Children's Hour. I'll hold that thought for the Children's Hour.

RHP: We have a whole section, right here. See?

RP: Ohh!

RHP: Can you describe your typical night involving the ClubHouse for me? Whether it was a Friday or a Saturday?

RP: Yeah, first of all.

RHP: Let's start at like 5PM.

RP: After you get off from work or school, you would lay down and do a cat nap...or disco nap. We would call those disco naps, honey. You would take a nap and set your alarm clock, and it would wake you up about 10[PM] or 11[PM], and then the girls who always wanted to make the grand entrances...I have to admit I would get there till about 2[AM]. So then, you would prepare, you would go through your wardrobe, put on your music. You'd put on a little Sylvester or something, or Lord [inaudible--Diana Ross?], and you would be twirling in the mirror.You had to have a full-length mirror cause you had to see what you looked like.

And then once you got it right, you would call your girls, and we would meet up like a gay gang, honey. Or gay superheroes. And we would come, and just twirl, and when we'd get to the ClubHouse it was 1 oclock[ AM].

RHP: Where would you meet up beforehand?

RP: Different places. Everybody didn't have a car--wasn't no Uber or Lyft then, honey.

RHP: There was taxis!

RP: There was taxis, but you know being Black in America--honey, taxis were not always easy to get.

RHP: Even Uber and Lyft now.

RP: Yeah, so we relied on public transportation. Somebody had a car. They would pick up the girls. The girls would give gas money. I was always in charge of collecting the coins and in charge of the girls.

And the girls were never short. So we would either gather in somebody's car or somebody's mother's car. Or, oh, wait a minute. My good girlfriend Antony [inaudible]'s mother Claudia Solomon—God rest her soul—she was like an official chauffeur at the ClubHouse. She drove a Duece and Accord? [Inaudible] and had that Duece and Quarter up until, I think, the late '90s. Because that's how fierce that car was. It was blue and white, honey. And we would pile the queens up in there. And his mother, she would go to her little spot, come and pick us up. We had to be ready when she said, "Look, if y'all ain't out in front of the ClubHouse at 3 o'clock, I'm leaving."

So we'd be lined up ready for our mother to come pull down her Duece and Quarter, come pick us up, and if...and that's how it was. Mothers who were very liberating and free and celebrating, would just love their children. And that was one of the mothers. We used call her a fag hag, call Miss Claudia, she was fierce, she wore a fabulous bob. An asymmetric bob with eighties ta--[inaudible] [14:26] with long nails like Loathing White?, honey. And she had disco lips on and her disco ensembles. Oh she was fabulous!

Many people thought she was a drag queen. A couple times we had to say, "No, that's Anthony's mother. She's just fabulous like that." If we weren't getting dropped off by a sibling or a parent, you rode the bus. We got everybody [inaubile] from Southeast. The kids would come from Southeast and Northwest, Northeast. Kids would even get on buses and come from New York...Chicago.

RHP: I heard about the bus trips.

RP: Yeah, they would do the bus trips. Greyhound, honey. [15:00] That's another story within a story, honey. The kids would get on the buses and we would meet along the corridors. Cause you know we had to meet along main avenues for safety. The girls would always say, "Meet me on Georgia Avenue. Meet me on 7th Street [NW]. You know we'd get there and you'd pick up one set of girls, or...this is how even fierce it was. We'd be on the bus, the 70 bus, riding up Georgia Ave and two or three girls would get on the bus. Then another two or three, by the time we got up to Upshur street, it would be 25 of us deep. And you know we wasn't having it, to trade with tribe?? And you know, the girls, they fight or they could run. But both of us could fight. So that was in preparing to get to the club. We would just be so excited to get there. And once we got there, you would be walking down Upshur street and you would walk into a group of girls. Or you'd see somebody coming across Georgia Avenue and you'd know just by the [inaudible], the walk, the twirl, how their head threw up, or how they nodded. And they would go, "Are you one of the children?"

That was the line we gave, "Honey, are you one of the children? Are you going to the ClubHouse? Do you have a membership?" You know, somebody was always quick to ask that. So we would meet up with people, strangers, and we would just go and have a good...great time, and just enjoy everything. So you meet up, but let me tell you, walking down the corridor of Upshur street, you would hear the music pulsating like your heart. And the closer you got you could feel the drums, the rhythm, the beat—it was calling. You knew that once you got through that door, that beat was going to smack you in the face like a bitch that stole your purse. And honey, it was everything. The beat, the deejays—what they would do on that turntable. They would spin you. And if you had a week of hell, or you had went through some drama, and you had been arguing with your boyfriend, mad at your lover—honey you let it all go on the dance floor. You know, it was the place that we let everything go. And once we got there, all our problems went away. We release it all. We released the tension, honey.

RHP: Yes. Want to take a little bit of break?

RP: Okay.

RHP: Okay, so when you are in there, describe the atmosphere please.

RP: Oh, oh honey. Once you got in, there was a good old area with all the...we call that the receiving area. "Oh hi girl, or hi...oh hi..[inaudible]" Then you walked through the door, and then you entered the main dance floor. Then on the other side, there was the smaller dance floor. Then once you got on the dance floor, there was a set of steps that took you up to the balcony. And you would sit up in the balcony. And it was a little darkness about it. It looked glowing lights and mirrors on the walls, and ambience of wealth and tropical delight. A "welcome to paradise," a "welcome to the ClubHouse." It was just an amazing...and then in between the main dance floor and the big dance floor, there was an area pushed back with sofas where the kids could rest. Many times we'd go in there after twirling and kicking...you'd go lay in there for about two hours or something.

I always felt like I was the bag check girl because mostly everybody gave me their IDs and stuff to keep. Because we had to look out for each other. And, we'd sit there and then take a little catnap, honey. And then, you'd go back to the beat of the music.

Honey, you'd wake a girl up, "Girrrrl, you gotta get up, it's 3 o'clock. Come on and get your life." And you'd just come back and you'd dance the night away. And we would come in in dark mist and leave in sunlight. The sun would be greeting you at the door. You know, we'd come in the darkness like birds of prey. Then we would enter and exit like birds of paradise. The light would be shining on us, honey. And we would just greet the church ladies in the morning. "Good morning, God is good."

RHP: How did you know what time it was? I've gotten a couple stories of...one, the clocks never actually worked in there. Two, Rainey [Cheeks] would change the clocks to whatever time...people caught him.

RP: I'm old school. I always had a watch on me, honey. So I always knew what time it was, honey. You wouldn't set me up, honey.

RHP: Let's move on to the specific events. The event of...for the ages: Children's Hour. Let me ask one quick pre-question. Earlier you said people would ask you, "Are you one of the children?" [20:00] Did you think that was a part of where Children's Hour came from? Is people asking?

RP: I mean it was...that was a...

RHP: Was that vernacular back then?

RP: That was the vernacular, was a way that we wanted to know if you were, "in the life," or a "friend of Dorothy," or "one of the children."

RHP: Was that more of a Black thing or?

RP: I think the Black kids, we ruled that saying.

RHP: Okay.

RP: "Are you one of the children? Are you in the life?" It was something about us that, I think that you know, people of color—meaning the Latin children. You know, the colorful children. The fabulous children. We just...it just has something about a ring, or a roll-off. If you had an accent—"Are you one of the children?" Or, "All right, are you one of the children?" So you know, it was like...you know we as LGBT people just take a phrase and just make it our own.

RHP: Yes. Yes. How many Children's Hours did you...

RP: Oh, did I experience?

RHP: ...attend?

RP: Now mind you, I never did drugs. I never drank. I didn't go there for that kind of thing. And let me say that, that experience was in every club. People were always saying stuff about the Children's Hour. Let me be clear, at the time of the '70s and the '80s and '90s, everywhere you went people were doing lines of cocaine. They were doing bumps. They were doing tabs of acid. But everybody was not high. There were kids who got high on the music, and I was one of them. So let me be very clear, I got high to the beat of the drums.

RHP: Okay.

RP: Then the Children's Hour, everybody was not getting high, some would leave you to believe other things, but the deejays...something about the way the music was played, you really didn't need to get high. Some just needed a little extra "umph" to take them over.

RHP: I heard that if you drank the punch you were on the same level...

RP: Oh, they would always talk about the acid punch. They were rumors. I wouldn't say very much about that punch. I don't know what...I never saw anybody pour anything like that.

RHP: So you never drank the punch?

RP: Oh, I did drink the punch. But I was already twirling before I was drinking the punch. So, either took you to another level for some, or just some people would spike it. It would be two sets of punch. There was one that they said, "do not drink," and they said one, "Drink."

RHP: For one of my three earlier people, they were like, "Yeah, Children's Hour, the punch was..."

RP: Some people say it was spiked. People who worked there would say it was never spiked because that's just what they're going to say. I never saw anyone spike it. I don't know what made me jump off a speaker and off of balconies into a split. But I think that was just the music carrying me.

RHP: Was that at Children's Hour?

RP: That was always at Children's...I mean, it was at Children's Hour, it was every...

RHP: No, that you jumped down the speaker into...

RP: Oh no, I would do that weekly. I would do that weekly, honey.

RHP: Okay.

RP: And twirl with Tramaine and all of us...Tramaine had this beautiful...Tramaine was this fabulous, tall, beautiful, dark chocolate queen who was like the empress of the ClubHouse. Tramaine could sing like no other. And Tramaine had a voice that was so beautiful, God rest her soul. So many people were a part of the ClubHouse that are no longer with us. But I could always remember Tramaine would sing over the beat of the music along. And we would twirl and we would sing and we would just celebrate life. And just have such a good time. And the Children's Hour...what I loved about it was, you entered...now, mind you, the Children's Hour didn't start until after midnight. And went on until the next day in the afternoon. So, we wouldn't leave...I remember many times we would not leave until like...oh my god, I don't think I would get home until like 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

RHP: Appropriate.

RP: A leave? [inaudible]Coming from the Children's Hour...now mind you, when it closed, we went somewhere else. We went to eat or somebody was cooking, or we would hang out at Franklin Park or Hayne's Point. And the kids...we would be so up, just we couldn't sleep because we would be so liberated by everything going on. The Children's Hour...it was like Alice in Wonderland. It was looking in the Look Glass.

RHP: That was one of the themes...

RP: I mean, it was a lot... There were a lot of themes that went to Children's Hour. It was amazing, it was something that...if you experienced it, you would never forget it. It was legendary. And then when you think about the ClubHouse beyond the Children's Hour, I think about all the live performances that we got to see there. Sylvester, Tramaine Hawkins, so many, Liz Terez, honey. I think about so many disco divas that came through and performers who rocked the mic. And mind you, they were all singing live. So, there was none of that autotuning or none of that fakeness.

RHP: Were you there for the Nona Hicks [mispoke: Hendryx] concert? [25:03]

RP: Oh, Nona Hendryx.

RHP: Yeah, the Nona Hendryx concert.

RP: [25:00] Yeah, so many people...chile, I was there for so many people. Chile, you just get caught up in the music. And just, caught up in the love and caught up in the energy of these live performances...were very nice. All the...you think of people who, so many divas who music broke in the ClubHouse. Broke in LGBT clubs. Their music broke. Like if you think about Gwynn Guthree, they used to call her the "Queen of the Paradise Garage." And I think of...if we had to pick somebody who would be the "Queen of the ClubHouse," I think it would be Lolita Holloway.

RHP: Lolita Holloway?

RP: You know, "Crash Goes Love," "Love Sensation." So many beats and sounds. And she had one of those voices...just was pulsating throughout the place. Linda Clifford, Ebony Champagne King, Martha Wash, Sylvester, Dionna Ross, First Choice, and Patty LaBelle. She had, "You're Messing with my Mind" and "Music is my Life." Honey, you'd think about who were soundtracks. These artists...they were soundtracks to the ClubHouse.

RHP: Just off the top of your head, do you remember any of the themes for Children's Hour?

RP: Oh, I couldn't even remember. I...you know, you were always so busy trying to dress for the theme. If it was a certain theme, you wanted to wear color. But I had to be colorful. I was very small and tender and shaped. I was size 9 and stopping traffic as I walked across the street, darling. I was currylicious !!, honey. I was the original gender bender, honey.

RHP: You and your Gray Shones?? aesthetic.

RP: You know, not even...yeah, kind of Gray Shones?? But I think I was more giving Chacahala??? [26:45] This is my life, darling.

RHP: What other events, special events, did you attend at the ClubHouse?

RP: Oh, I remember! Oh, I remember they had the very first House of Khan Ball there.

RHP: House of Khan ball...

RP: Yes, it was amazing. It was fabulous. The kids were walking, even “Paris is Burning” here in D.C. The House of Khan, which I walked and won Grand Prize that night.

RHP: What category?

RP: I think it was Diva Extravaganza or something. And I won Grand Prize that night, I will never forget that. I had a lovely trophy and cute little coins in my pocket. It was wonderful and it was amazing. I remember I was walking one category and one my girlfriends had on a pair of shoes that I wanted to wear. And I came out two categories, I mean, two contestants...well not contestants...well, yeah I would say I came out two people after her and had on the same shoes. And my good girlfriend Miss Kim slightly chopped me. She didn't chop me, but she was giving, "Weren't those the same shoes she just had on?" I was given, "Yes, but they look better on me." And she was giving...You know that's when the kids used to give scores like 7, 8, 9, 10. And she gave me a 9 at first. And when I said, "They are the same shoes." She threw up a 7. And I said, "All right, Miss Kim. That will be the last time you'll be giving me a 7."

RHP: At least you didn't get the Devil's number.

RP: Okay.

RHP: Speaking of balls. So, some of the...one of the oldest histories we have talks about Avis Pendarvis.

RP: Oh, that's my mother.

RHP: I know. Can you...?

RP: She? was originally from Washington, D.C.

RHP: It said that Avis was one of the first, was one of the people who created the house systems.

RP: She was one of the original houses. If you think about the fact that, that...pay homage to...I'm not thinking about, I'm paying homage where homage is due. You think about the original houses and how the House of LaBeija, the House of Extravaganza, the House of Dupree, the House of Corey, and Avis Pendarvis...I mean the House of Pendarvis. But I think about the forefathers who would be Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Paris Dupree, Angie Extravaganza, Crystal LaBeija and Pepper LaBeija...you know you have to honor them who were the pillars of the ballroom community. And from those houses breathed life to so many other houses. Now we have so many. We have...I can't even...

RHP: Louis Vitton...

RP: All of that. All of that came from these amazing trans women who had a light to give hope, create safe spaces for LGBT folks in a time when we couldn't have been free. Being free for some people was not an easy thing. But we created ballroom...the ballroom system, the ballroom community, clubs that catered to us and celebrated us in a way that we felt safe to twirl, to walk, to win, [30:00] and to serve. And beyond that, the houses gave people, many of whom were kicked out of their house...when we speak of trans people who were not accepted by their parents. And the houses gave them a structure of having a mother or having a father. Someone who nurtured them and helped guide them, nurture them, helped them get in school, help them get careers, help them get jobs. People can kind of throw a little salt when it looks at the ballroom community, but it was a necessity so others may live. And here we are, voguing in Russia, Paris, Milan, Italy, and et cetera.

RHP: Can you talk about how you met Miss Avis Pendarvis. Or how she became your mother.

RP: How she became my mother...Oh my god, it was so long ago, I can't really remember. I would always sit in awe of Avis. She would always walk into a room and...you know, she was just this beautiful, amazing light. She spoke ten different languages, she was very well [inaudible]. She was the valedictorian of her high school, she went one at a time to receive several scholarships and Avis decided to live her truth. And because she lived her truth...She lived as a woman, most of her life. At a time she was bold, she was fearless. And what she did was she advocated for education.

That was a big thing about her. She was a big advocate. She was so well-versed in education. She was intellectually amazing. She was a wealth of knowledge. And I would sit under her and just absorb all of that amazing energy. That amazing light. And I would see her and she would always walk through the ballroom. She was always talking to everybody. Not saying anything about the other girls, they were amazing too, those other mothers were fabulous. But there was something about a light that I was drawn by Avis because of a similar spirit.

Then when I found that she was from D.C. and she grew up with my cousins, they all went to school together, and we had a kinship. I immediately...I didn't have to walk a ball, I immediately became a Pendarvis.

RHP: You met her in New York?

RP: No...well, I would see her in New York. And I would see her here first. Avis was an amazing performer. She would show...she was part of the Jewelbox Review. Which was an amazing...

RHP: The Jewelbox?

RP: The Jewelbox Review, it was an amazing review that went all over the world. They would have thirteen performers. And only one would be a woman. The rest were all transgenders. And early when it was started, it was started...it was predominantly white. I mean, very, in the '50s were very segregated. And those who came into it later had to be very fair, or very brown. It would be very clear. Avis was very fair and Dorian was extremely fair. Pepper, I mean, Paris...and they looked white.

RHP: So there was colorism in there.

RP: It was colorism a lot with that. Not saying that that was...it was just a part of the time. And these women came in...Avis came in and broke ground and then, to that, the later years with the Jewelbox would...became more darker girls. More beautiful exotic looking girls because the "Black is Beauty" kind of thing was coming in. So, the Jewelbox Review would travel all over. It would come to the Howard Theatre, Apollo Theatre. And folks would go in and at the end of the night, they would bring everybody out. And someone had to pick out who was the real woman. And many times they would never get them right. And whoever picked the real one would get money or a prize or something. But it was an amazing kind of thing and what I loved about it was...it was so...I guess it was the predecessor to so many things. Pose, RuPauls Drag Race, and so many other things. The game was that these were women of trans descent or drag performers, however they identified. Back then, everything was kind of under the umbrella of drag and that [inaudible] [34:27] We were not politically correct as we are today.

At the end of the day, I was drawn to Avis and her amazing light. And her ability to love and nurture everyone. She didn't care what house you belonged to. She loved our community intensely. And I fell in love with her. And we built us a kinship. I would see her when I was young. And I always saw her in clubs in D.C. and I always wondered who she was. She was very regal. She had this beautiful caramel complexion. She was very regal [35:00], she was very...just the way she talked, the way she spoke, the way she carried herself. She reminded me of my mother, and she reminded me a lot of myself.

And people still today when they're around me who knew Avis, say, "Oh my gosh, I see so much of her in you." And what a wonderful thing. Now as I'm an elder of the House of Pendarvis, I feel very honored to be. A couple years ago at the Latex bar, I was honored to receive the Angel Award named after Avis Pendarvis, and that to me out of all the awards I received in my life, was the greatest award. Because it was named after my mother.

RHP: Going back, going back to the ClubHouse.

RP: I took you on a journey, didn't I?

RHP: Oh my god, no I'm probably going to need to do a follow up conversation just on Avis and other things. Did you ever take a bus trip with the ClubHouse?

RP: Did I?

RHP: I heard that there were bus trips that went up to New York or Baltimore.

RP: No, I would always ride with the other girls. You know, bus trips... I mean, I like bus trips. But no, I don't think I ever took one of the bus trips.

RHP: I mean, with a car? When everyone else was...?

RP: With a car, yeah. If they went...they would always do like...it would be a ClubHouse trip. The girls would always say, "The ClubHouse kids are going up to the Paradise Garage," or, "We're going to Studio 54," [in New York] Or "We're going here, we're going..." So, yes I would be a part of that entourage. But I wouldn't be on the bus.

RHP: Too good for the bus.

RP: No, I wasn't too good for the bus. I was in Geneva's car, there would be 8 or 9 of us in a 6-seater. So, trust me, we'd be in there deep.

RHP: Okay. Can you describe these trips?

RP: Fun, food, laughing, drama, you know. Bus trips were always amazing me. Because, first of all, if, when we get to the rest stops. And off the bus come all the birds of paradise. And all these girls curling, twirling, and then walking into the male's room, into the restroom. We all in there walking and marching, and have someone come behind you and say, "Am I in the right place? Am I in the right room?" So that was always fun.

You know, the kids would eat or they would cook and they just, I mean there were boxed lunches, full...Kids would cook and feed everybody. So it was kind of like those experiences, even if I didn't ride with them, I would ride to the rest stop with them. You always kind of met up with people and it was kind of a lovely kinship.

You was like, "Girl, you going?" "Yes, girl. Yes, Miss [inaudible], I'm going."

RHP: "See you next weekend on the trip?"

RP: Yes.

RHP: We already talked about concerts. Any other things you want to say about concerts there at the ClubHouse?

RP: They were just unforgettable. I think about the times I was able to come backstage right before performers would go on. And if you were lucky enough to come back into the littler room, the little green room, and talk to performers. You know, that was pre-cell phones. I imagine if we had cell phones then, I would have some fabulous selfies of some of these amazing...

RHP: You have a Polaroid with you?

RP: No, but I carried a Kodak 110 always with me. But I was so busy taking pictures inside the ClubHouse, posing and twirling, honey, by the time I got there, those were all gone.

RHP: We've been dancing around pictures. Do you have pictures to show me?

RP: I do have some pictures of the Mr. ClubHouse Pageant. So you've got to talk to the people about htat. I've got a few of them.

RHP: So, we got a collection from Paul Butler. So there are some people I'm trying to...

RP: Identify.

RHP: Identify. Do you know any of these people?

RP: You've got to blow that up. You blow that up, I could probably.

RHP: Let me do this... [39:18]

RP: You know who would be the great historian for this? JJ.

RHP: Okay.

RP: JJ Tate. He would know everybody right off. Cause you know we know everybody by nicknames, you go there and, "Oh, that's Miss Boogaloo."

RHP: I mean that's...

RP: Or, "that's Miss Get On Your Nerves," or "That's Miss Southeast."

RHP: Or these people...There are so many...So in picture 15, you got Rainey [Cheeks]. Oh, don't freeze on me. And, here. [40:00] Talk to me about your relationship with Rainey, cause he did...

RP: Oh, I love Rainey. Oh! ClubHouse fixture...that's Larry, honey. ClubHouse fixture, the Hussle King, honey. When you talk about the ClubHouse and the Husselettes. There was a certain time when they played at the main floor. About 3 o/clock in the morning, they would play songs like "Say, Sugar, Femme??" You're a Native New Yorker." They would play songs like, "At the Coca, Coca Cobana."

RHP: Okay.

RP: It was songs that only the Hussle girls would get on. The Hussle girls like Miss Beverly, and them. This one they would twirl Miss Beverly. The girls would have on twirl skirts and high heels, that they would [inaudible] Debora Anderson. Oh, so many people, but Larry was one of the kings of the Hussle.

RHP: Were the Hussle girls a part of a dance troupe?

RP: No, we would just call them the Hussle girls. Men and women, you say, "Here come the Hussle girls, everybody get ready..." You know, and they would just part the floor. And Roger Hawkins...another guy who was an amazing dancer. Oh my god. they were pre-Dancing with the Stars. They had nothing on them. When they hit the floor, it was like everyone was amazing. And that's Larry. I can't think of Larry's last name right now, but everybody, we just said "Miss Larry oh Larry." But that's Larry the Hussle King. He lived in Baltimore. And there would be a group of them that would come down from Baltimore every Saturday.

RHP: I have to get the Baltimore Afro-American [inaudible]

RP: What is Larry's last name? It'll come to me, but I can't think of it right now.

Oh, I have pictures. Oh, I forgot about the major Pajama Party.

RHP: Okay.

RP: Okay, we'll talk about that.

RHP: We can talk about that while we're waiting for these pictures to load. [42:04]

RP: Okay, good. Oh, I forgot about that! Oh my god, I forgot about that.

RHP: Tell me about the Pajama party.

RP: Oh, are you taping?

RHP: Yeah, we're still...

RP: We're still taping.

RHP: Once you came to the Rainey picture I came back on.

RP: Okay. Okay. Oh my god, the legendary pajama party. Honey, I remember one year I had on this fabulous unique one-piece white fabulous pajama party...pajama outfit. Oh, it was fabulous. The kids, oh, they would have on little t-shirts and booty shorts and, chile, swimwear. Oh, the kids were so creative. They would have fabulous gold lame pants and bikini tops. The girls and the guys. Oh the pajama party, I forgot about that. How legendary that was. You had to have...you wanted to make an entrance in your pajamas. The kids would come out really creative little cute pajamas. Oh, we were dancing and having the time of our lives. And just, sometimes just posing and being cute.

RHP: Of course. Yes.

RP: Mhmm, posing and being cute, chile. Oh my god. And I'm trying to think...what was her name? Eugertha or Eartha, or something like that. I think was Ugeartha. Somebody, you'll find a picture...if you have a picture of her, soon as I know her her name will come. And say, she was like this Egyptian goddess, she wore these long braids almost to the floor. She would always put a jewel or something in her head. She would always wear pleated skirts, gold lame pleated skirts. So, when she spun out on the dance floor it was like a spinning top. And Larry, and Roger, and Beverly, and Debora...all of them would hit the floor at a certain time and hussle. And what they would do is they would pass on, and they would hussle like 3 or 4 girls and guys at the same time. So everybody would switch when they hit the dance. And you would think it was all choreographed, but it wasn't. It was just that kind of magical moment. It was freestyle. But you could have swore it was autograph...I mean, choreographed by Al Minelli, honey. It was fabulous. These kids came and they twirled.

RHP: The invite for any three. ???

RP: Oh my god. I still have my ClubHouse membership.

RHP: And you didn't bring it, girl?

RP: I didn't bring it.

RHP: We're going to have to meet again.

RP: Okay. We're going to have to meet again. Text me or email and what I'll do, is I'll email you some pictures.

RHP: Get the black hole at the end of the universe.

RP: Oh yeah.

RHP: I would kill for those rollerblades.

RP: Oh, they was, it was magical. [inaudible] Oh, it was magical, darling. Oh, I just...Oh, Che Che, La Fi [inaudible], Dr. Buzz...I mean, it was just certain people that...and regional. Certain artists were played regional across the country. You played their music in certain areas, in certain...but then it was globally, [45:00] people who ruled the dance floor. I think about so many...if you think about the early '70s, the artists, they would do...Now mind you, they were doing all vinyl then. So they would take...the ability to take an album and mix it and mix it into a 12 in record. And these could were doing two albums sometimes, constantly doing and mixing them like. Oh my god, what they would do with dance and drum beat. Oh my god, and "Ring my Bell" and oh, I think about...oh my good good girlfriend Alinda Clifford, "Runaway Love," honey. Oh, chile, what they would do with "Runaway Love." [45:42]

RHP: Back to these pictures...

RP: Okay.

RHP: She look familiar?

RP: She does look familiar. I can't see...if they were bigger. I had them and I was looking at them...probably. Okay. Wait a minute. She does look familiar. That's one of the bus trips it looks like. Is that a bus trip? Is that on a bus? Because that looks like a bus, with a window in the background. That's a bus. Cause she’s standing on a bus. Doesn't that look like a bus to...?

RHP: It does, it does. [Crosstalk]

RP: That's one of the ClubHouse bus trips.

RHP: Mmk. Let's try to close some of these windows so my computer doesn't just...

RP: Okay.

RHP: I was going to get like a digital frame to put them in...

RP: Let me flip that around. Let me see who's in that. Oh, chile. God, that face is all...the ClubHouse faces but I can't...It was just certain people, you never knew their names. They was always there. You would say..."She's alright."

RHP: Paul Butler would probably remember who these three are.

RP: Yeah.

RHP: We really want to know...

RP: ...who they are.

RHP: Mhm, because I think someone's like...at least two of them died of AIDS.

RP: Yeah, these two are dead. Probably right, these two are dead. Yeah, so many. We lost a lot of people. That era when the epidemic hit, we lost some of the most amazing people. Larry is one of them, he's now one of our ancestors. Those are ClubHouse dances. Didn't I say leg warmers and body suits?

RHP: I didn't think you were lying.

RP: I wasn't lying. There is Sylvester right there. Isn't that Sylvester?

RHP: Wait, right here?

RP: On this side. Oh no, that's...that's when the kids would do...they would do little opening numbers of productions and dances. They had productions.

RHP: I did not. I knew they did dances...

RP: Oh no, it was a production.

RHP: Of course, of course. Black people not doing a production?

RP: And they came up with themes...

RHP: Of course.

RP: They were dance numbers and productions, honey.

RHP: Okay.

RP: I could go on and on and on. But I'm definitely going to send you some pictures.

RHP: That's the plan.

RP: Let me see. Oh! Wait a minute, this is Puletta. Goddamn, look familiar. But right now, names sometimes just...there are certain people you met when they saw their names would just immediately come out. I'm a tell you, when you sit with like, Beverly and Debora, and considering Miss Debora worked the door, she'd know everybody.

RHP: She saw IDs.

RP: Oh yeah, Debora would be IDs. She'd see that and be like, "Oh, that's Miss So-and-so." [48:55] Some people were more well-known than others.

RHP: Oh, yeah. Most definitely. That's why I'm just going to ask everybody.

RP: Okay.

RHP: There's more online.

RP: I'm definitely going to send you some. I'm definitely going to send you more. Because you want some...I mean I feel like when it's more of a history, there should be certain people like, as soon as you see them you're like...

RHP: Yeah, that's why I want to at least honor the...

RP: Yeah.

RHP: I was...if I was getting too lost.

RP: Okay, I'm sorry.

RHP: No, so the Halloween parties. How were the Halloween parties?

RP: Oh, I forget about the Halloween parties. The legendary ClubHouse Halloween party. I've been one year. We went to Jeffrey's Anne's to bump my hair...

RHP: Who?

RP: Jeffrey Anne's, the hair stylist. And bumped my hair to the God's. We came through there, my hair was whipped to the God's, honey. Oh it was fabulous. I always said, "Hey, honey, thank god for that." Jeffrey Anne's whipped my hair and then we went in there [50:00] with Miss Tokyo and...oh I forgot about the Halloween parties. The kids...the butch queens, the real butch butch butch queens lived for the Halloween, because they would dress up like cheerleaders. And then the real femme queens would put on little football outfits.

RHP: Oh, yes.

RP: And then the ones who would put their fist...and then there were the ones who would always work [inaudible] The kids were fierce. They would have routines, they would perform in line getting into the club. So, kids would do routines outside. And then, of course, they would do a routine inside.

RHP: Were some of these routines...or these groups, were they associated with the different social clubs, the different [inaudible]

RP: Some...I think some, you know, the Best of Washington kids were always there. And you just had different social groups, social people. I mean, the Halloween party—I forgot about that—was legendary. Legendary. I remember one year I dressed up. I ordered this fabulous short cut wig. I was giving Dionne Ward. I was giving very Dionne Ward to this swoop to one side, honey. I had on my mother's Chanel suit honey. Oh you could tell by the [inaudible], I was giving Dionne Ward. Very 1972. "Do you know the way to San Jose?"

RHP: Yes, [inaudible]. Yes! Oh yes yes yes yes. Okay okay.

RP: Oh, you made this...those pictures sometimes draw, kind of jeer your memory.

RHP: That's why I want to show them.

RP: Oh my gosh.

RHP: Shoot. Getting back on a track, I don't know what track it is. Political events—do you remember going to some of those. Or, what?

RP: If I think about what stands out more politically than anything to me...I remember when the first call came down to have Black Pride. And they gathered people together. Theodore, Ernest, Willmore Cook. Theodore Kirkland, and Ernest, and Wollette?? Griffin.

RHP: Wollette?

RP: Wollette Griffin, was a well known lesbian.

RHP: Is she still alive?

RP: Out of those four, the only person that is alive is Ernest. Everybody else is gone. God rest their souls, they're all ancestors. Thirty years ago, they all called...a call was put out to community leaders, performers, club owners, the ClubHouse opened their door. We had a meeting there and the planning of Black Pride...

RHP: ...started at the ClubHouse.

RP: ...in the ClubHouse. And what we were going to do to raise money for Black and Brown folks living and dying from AIDS. That call was put out, and then that call, we strategized and formulated, ICAN. Which was Inner City AIDS Network. Which was the, the mother to Us Helping Us. We became trainers, peer counselors, folks who would sit with people living with the virus, and folks who would go help feed people, and just go take care of folks living with the virus. All of that came about, all in the ClubHouse.

I remember in that first meeting and they said "What can you do?" I remember they asked us how we could help. I remember this was...you know the kids weren't thinking about raising money, you know getting funds, or scholarships, or...I mean, not scholarships, grants or anything like this...because these kids, we raised money, nickels and dimes, and wrote checks, and poured our heart out, our time, and energy. Throwing clubs all across the country, throwing all kinds of little grassroot...and creating the Black Pride experience.

I just kind of go on about it. Just hit me, like a ball of lightning. I remember it was thirteen of us who were the core members of the board. There were thirteen, you know. Thirteen of these phenomenal people who had the vision of how to raise money. And I remember Roderick Lovelace who owned Knob Hill. He would write a check for whatever we didn't have, and would bond the field so we could have Black Pride. [55:00] And I think Colin Cheatum and so many amazing people that [55:00]...you know, Teasely, Tony Collins...

RHP: Tony is still alive right?

RP: Yeah, Tony Collins, she's still with us.

RP: Belinda, who's no longer here. Meeting from the ClubHouse in people's living rooms over potluck dinners planning Black Pride, and when that day came, how phenomenal that was. How the ClubHouse played a very pivotal role in that. And that meeting gave birth.

RHP: So was it more than just the ClubHouse being a place to meet? Or what other kind of connections?

RP: The ClubHouse was just such a place where people gathered. They were...when folks would die...and the calls came out, and people were meeting at the ClubHouse finding out how we could do to help save each other. How can we raise money, or how can we get help? People were, of course people were scared to go to other places, and they weren't going to get the care that they needed. So we had to do a lot of grassroots stuff in clubs.

The ClubHouse was one of them. And that's why God blessed Rainey Cheeks, and Ron Simmons, and the visionaries. That's how they all...they called, created, and what became what it is today. We all had meetings in the ClubHouse, we had meetings in the...and they, someone had the...Rainey and the staff at the ClubHouse, and community leaders say, "How can we come together?" Now, I remember people meeting in the ClubHouse. Would come in and talk about issues that were affecting folks living with the virus, or not affecting. Or caretakers. I think about how instrumental that was.

RHP: Somewhere I read or heard, the ClubHouse hosted the first panel, or the first public outreach, for Black people...

RP: I think they did. I think that they might have. I think...I think about... you know, so many things in my life stand out. But I remember that being a very pivotal place during a time when folks were in fear. We were...we were...We didn't know what to do. We were...it hit so quick, so fast. The kids were like, "What could we do," but I'll tell you, that once it hit. We pulled together, honey, the old fashioned way. We had rallied, and did what we needed to do. And we didn't need government money to do it. We did it all ourselves. We pulled together, that's what family was about.

And if I had to think about ClubHouse, I think about family and what we did. It was more than just a dance place. It was a meeting place. It was a central part of our community that where you went to just, where you needed to go. It was a place, it was far about the music, it was fellowshipping, and sitting and talking. I remember conversations we were having, of all [inaudible], and talking to people. And then, some would come who would be very ill, but just wanted to be around folks and they wanted to feel the love, and they wanted to see folks dance. They wanted to just be there. So, it was a place that sometimes I remember...near the ends of some folks' lives, they were frail and they were not looking well, but they came anyway. Because they wanted to say, "You know, I want to be with you all. I want to feel this kind of thing. I want to see, just get me the girl. Let me just get in the door. And I don't care what you think about how I look..."

RHP: One last time.

RP: "You don't know what I need. Just to see you and feel you, and that kind of thing." You know, you see the girls, and the strength it took for them to come to the ClubHouse, and knowing that they were not the belle of the ball, they were not turning heads anymore. But they were turning heads in other ways...but the love we gave each other. I mean, kids will always be shady, but what we gave each other...How Debbie and all them, and Rainey would treat them and lift them up at the door. And be like, "Come on in, girl. Come on in, chile." and would give you that kind of love. And it was the hugs...that we hugged and loved on each other. And you could feel it.

I would go to the ClubHouse and know that I would see a person one Saturday, and I would see them and I would know they wouldn't be there the next Saturday. That, I knew that in looking at them and seeing them in that moment, I knew this would be the last time. That's why sometimes when I hear one song, it's a song, over and over, "You can't be nobody's lover till you're somebody's friend." You know, and when I would hear that song in the ClubHouse and I would close my eyes, and it would...sometimes, you would think [1:00:00] about faces that were no longer there.

You'd be twirling and dancing and you'd look over and the music would just kind of let me escape. Knowing that so many of our friends were dying. Yet I'm going to celebrate their life in a way that I'm going to say, "sister, you are here with me. You are here dancing with me, girl. We still dancing, we still twirling." That, for me, was the ClubHouse would [inaudible] so many of [1:00:26] us. I didn't think I was going to get this emotional for a minute, but that's alright, because that's… [1:00:31]

RHP: [inaudible] for next time...

RP: That's alright, because you're going to need it. Because when we start telling these stories, they hit a point, and it just hit me. A wave hit me.

RHP: I mean, I'm feeling it.

RP: It just hit me and like, oh my god. It hit me cause I think about so many faces. And we're not talking about like, I'm thinking about thousands. I remember at one point in my life I stopped counting at 2500 that I knew. I stopped, I said, "I can't keep doing this stuff, it is torturing your soul." So, when we would go...that's why when we'd go to the ClubHouse reunion...I'm a end it here. That every time we gather, when JJ and Tito and all of them decided...and Chris Randall, decided..."We gonna do the reunion y'all. We gonna celebrate the reunion of the ClubHouse." and that;s why it means so much to so many people, because it is not just a party, it's in remembrance, and in love, and in fellowship.

And when I go and when...I'm so honored that every year they've had it, they've asked me to speak. And do a fortune about remembrance and stories. And I think about telling stories and I have so many. And I'm so honored that when they ask me to speak and when people come up and be like, "Rayceen, oh my god, you told that story, chile!" But it is so good to remember and celebrate life. And so the ClubHouse Reunion for me, is an event. It's something I look forward to every year. That it is now sketched out, etched out. Oh chile, you know where you're going to be Memorial Weekend for those who want to dance and celebrate life. We're going to the reunion.

RHP: John Eddy told me he already reserved me a ticket.

RP: Yeah, yeah. So it's just that kind of experience, you know. I think about how I carry all of my ancestors with me to the reunion. We're all going there dancing. They're twirling with me and saying, "Work, girl."

RHP: Oh they’re woke.

RP: So they're with me. I thank you for letting me be a part of this experience.

RHP: Yeah, I...

RP: Did we hit everything? I hope we did. If not, I'll be back.

RHP: We hit most of everything. But yeah, we can do...

RP: What would you like to...?

RHP: We can do a Part 2 with you. I think...

RP: There was a lot. What time is it about, 7, 8 o'clock?

RHP: It's about 7:30.

RP: Okay, good.

RHP: Yes.

RP: I like your questions.

RHP: Thank you.

RP: You should ask...did you ask "what did the ClubHouse mean to you?" Is that one of your [inaudible]? What does it mean to you?

RHP: Yeah, we're going to jump down...see, that's...

RP: Oh, right there.

RHP: That's at the bottom.That's two sections away. But...Let's do that because you...So, that's question 37.

RP: No, you did ask me...you said, "Describe the ClubHouse." So I just described what it meant to me. So I described it in my definition.

RHP: That's right, you did.

RP: Yeah, I did. It was liberating, it was freedom, so I described what it was in my...

RHP: What was important.

RP: Yeah.

RHP: And would you say that was kind of the same reason for the African American community, why it was important to the African American community? The African American LGBTQ community?

RP: The ClubHouse?

RHP: Yeah.

RP: Why was it...? Because it was something of our own, created by us. It was something to...I mean, you knew when you went there, you was going to see Black and brown folks, chile. You wouldn't have to worry about...you know. During that time D.C. was shady. It was a funny experience. It was a little shady. The Black girls come here, the white girls come there. Before we had all these other clubs, we all hung together.

Mind you, it wasn't always...we'd hang together because, you know, they was running the kids, beating the kids, and bottling the girls. I never got a bottle or two, but I could fight. But you know, that's because we cling together because of our [inaudible]. And what I loved about doing the era leading up to the ClubHouse, we...even [1:05:00] with our segmented way—white kids come here, the Black kids come there—but when there was a time when we all hung together. It was a wonderful...it was a beautiful time. And then of course, we needed sometimes to go to places where we needed to celebrate us. We needed to go in places that were identified specifically as a place of color.

RHP: A color [inaudible] recluse?

RP: Yeah, and it was the place that we needed. And because...I mean, you can go to a frat house, or a couple of those places and they would card you. And literally, card you like there was no tomorrow. "Do you have another ID? Do you have another this, this...Where's your government ID? You have to have three IDs. Oh, you don't carry it?" But see I was giving, "Oh, really? Should I call the ABR Board, cause if someone is in here under 18 you're losing your liquor license." "Oh, come on in Miss Chan." "Come on in, Miss [inaudible]."

RHP: One could do that.

RP: I was quick on my feet, I wasn't having it.

RHP: Bringing in another question like what other bars and clubs did you go to between '75 and '89?

RP: My very first club was the Brass Rail. That's where I came out of. The Brass Rail was it. The Brass Rail was the...what I loved about the Brass Rail is that it was a place where the transsexuals ruled. They ruled. The girls ruled. That corner on 14th Street across from the Women's Museum, was one of the most colorful corners between 14th and 9th Street...New York Avenue...all of that, was the most colorful area you've ever wanted to experience in your life. Right there where that McDonald's is, right there across...

RHP: And the Blick [Blick’s Art Materials]...I'm seeing the Blick. I'm seeing the church and then around the block...and around the corner is the White House!

RP: Right there, right there. Let me tell you. Right there in that little corridor was the Brass Rail. Roy Rogers, a place that rented by the hour. It was two stories. It was one of the most seediest hotels ever. I never went up there. I only went to the doorway. They rented rooms by the hour.

You could [inaudible] that the children would be right outside, tricking, doing all kinds of things. But on the other side of the hotel was McDonald's. A block down the street where they had their furniture store, right before you get to the Commission's Center. You can still see the Greyhound sign outside. That was the Greyhound bus station.

RHP: I used to...

RP: And the legendary downstairs, you had to go two-three stories to go down to the basement. To the bathroom.

RHP: So that was a cruising spot I'm guessing...Let the record show that the face said, "Yes."

RP: Can I tell you? I've never been [inaudible] in the door. I would go three flights down with my girlfriends, and I just didn't have the spirit or the strength to go beyond the door. The girls would take me and say "Rayceen, I'm going to have you peek through the door. Then look around and if I do not return in 45 minutes, call the police. Hold my keys." And the girls would go down there and do everything under the sun. But I mean, it was what it was. It was a time...

RHP: You gotta do what you got to do.

RP: You know what it was. But mind you, in between that, at 14th street was the red light district. It had all the new clubs up and down 14th street. Franklin Park sat between 14th and it took up that whole block—14th and 13th was diagonally across from the Brass Rail. Mind you, around the corner from the Brass Rail was the place called The Room. It was a straight bar. But they would let the girls come in there and they would have no problems. They moved...and then they would tell you for it would get a little out of hand, "I think you need to go to the [inaudible]."

So for being a place, it was a straight bar that took...the working girls would go through and the working girls. So you know it was like a place that when you got to the Room, it was a little hole in the wall and it had a little jukebox, and it had a little back...a little place where you pulled a lever and you put your money in. And get your cigarettes, would drop out of the bottom of it. One of the old-fashioned cigarette machines. I remember it like it was only yesterday. And around the corner was the [inaudible], Fish and Chips—you could get...then it was a place on 14th street that would...oh my god. It was an all-night Popeyes. It used to be on the corner. It sat on 14th street. And 14th street was the corridor. Let me tell you about...

RHP: Wait! That Popeyes is still there!

RP: No it's gone. It's gone. There's a hotel there now.

RHP: Oh no..or is it 16th st?

RP: But let me tell you about 14th street. One side where Franklin Park was, where the Brass Rail sat behind it, and the other side of 14th street was where the "real" girls were. And the trannies...the [1:10:00] transsexuals worked on this side—drag queens or transsexuals. If you were "real" enough, you could go across the street. But if you weren't, they would snatch your wig off, beat you ungodly, and send you back. And a few of the girls who were real enough would come and stand on that corner, and that was to prove they were. If you could stand on that corner and get picked up by a date, you have now been successfully passing. You are in...and many of the girls were lovely and fabulous—I ain't gonna name no names and put their business out there—but all of them are gone anyway. [1:10:32]

RHP: Let's speak their names. Let's speak their names.

RP: They were beautiful. They were just...red girls. You were real enough, you would go across the street. And what I loved because, I could just pop around with everybody, I loved everybody. And I would always go and talk to the working girls. And always encourage them with, "get your life off this corner. What you going to do with your life?" A lot of the time, you'd be surprised. You never know people's stories.

Some of them out there working had kids. Some of them was working in college. They were working in the strip joints and they were trying a few more tricks outside. Making a little extra coin. I mean, it was the time of [inaudible], and it was a time where people didn't know what was coming on the back of...after '79. Get ready...what's getting ready to come. Because that was pre-condoms, free sex, free love, all of that. So it was an amazing time. That's a book right there. Is this all taped and said?

RHP: Yes, you're still taping girl.

RP: Oh my god.

RHP: You're still taping.

RP: I'm giving you stories after stories after stories. So there's a lot of stories...

RHP: Our next meeting is going to be at Franklin Park...

RP: Bob's Inn, Man's World, La Bamba's—La Bamba's was historical...on 14th street. So many clubs. We had so many and...

RHP: We need to stick back to clubs...for this meeting.

RP: Right right.

RHP: I'm going to have to meet you at Franklin's Park.

RP: Yeah, you need to also talk to Erin Myers, who is working on a project. We're getting...he's working with the City Council to get a pathway of all of the historical gay, historical clubs, and connecting the pathway. And taking a tour throughout Washington, D.C. So, he's working on that.

RHP: Didn't he...come to us...?

RP: He did, he did. And the ClubHouse is one of them.

RHP: Anything else for this time?

RP: I think we're cool. I think you just give me your email and I'll send you some pictures.

RHP: Okay.

RP: I'm definitely going to send you some pictures. Because as soon as I send them to...everybody who sees them will be able to identify. I'll just tell you who's in them so you already know.

RHP: So, we're going to end Rayceen Part I. [1:13:02]


Rayceen Pendarvis


Delan Ellington

Item Type

Oral History

Audio Recording Format



Rayceen Pendervis Transcript.pdf


Delan Ellington, “Rayceen Pendarvis Clubhouse Oral History Interview,” Rainbow History Project Digital Collections, accessed May 29, 2024, https://archives.rainbowhistory.org/items/show/1640.

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