The Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center (CAC) is located in the former Allen & Jemison Warehouse Co. building located on the corner of 7th Street and Greensboro Avenue on the same block as the Bama Theatre.
Built in 1903, the four-story, 50,000 square-foot red brick building has a special place in the hearts of Tuscaloosa residents. As the Allen & Jemison Warehouse Co. many community members fondly remember visiting the store for everything from wood and nails to wedding china. The pneumatic tubing system used for cashiers to send money to the mezzanine level in the back of the building and have change sent to the front of the store is still in the ceiling.
In 1975, the building was sold to James Spiller owner of Spiller Furniture and the building is often called the “Spiller Building.” In 2002 Christ Episcopal, located on the same block as the CAC, purchased the building for $1.5 million and tore down an addition on the back of the building so the church could expand on 7th street. The church left the original, but empty, structure in place. After trying many alternatives to rent the space and plans falling through, a decision was reached to begin the process of demolition since the building would go into disrepair without a tenant.
The City of Tuscaloosa received a $1.5 million HUD grant to renovate the infrastructure of the building with The City of Tuscaloosa Planning Department playing a pivotal role. The city then turned the project over to The Arts Council to finish the space and manage the first cultural arts center in Tuscaloosa’s history.
The Arts Council is still in the process of raising funds to complete the first floor of the CAC. $1,004,700 has been raised to date and an additional $150,000 is needed to complete construction. Additional funds will be needed to outfit the first floor. The Arts Council has taken out the first loan in the organization’s history with the confidence that the funds will be raised to complete the gorgeous space.
The space will be a hub of cultural activity and will provide Downtown Tuscaloosa with valuable gathering space- where artists, educators and community members can come together to work, meet, rehearse, create and experience art together.
The first floor of the CAC is 12,000 square feet with a Black Box Theatre and Grand Hall, which will house family programming, educational opportunities, rehearsal space or community meeting space for rent. In addition, the CAC will house offices for local arts groups and a two gallery spaces one for The University of Alabama and one for The Arts Council. The Grand Opening is on Dinah Washington’s Birthday, August 29, 2013.
Dinah Washington was a jazz and blues vocalist and pianist born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The “Queen of Blues” Washington has been cited as the most popular black female recording artist of the ‘50’s. She is a 1986 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.