By: Shayne Benowitz
Found in the heart of Overtown’s Folklife Village, Ward Rooming House carries historical significance
The Black Archives History & Research Foundation is on a mission to preserve and revitalize Historic Overtown. Working closely with the City of Miami, they’ve restored the Ward Rooming House. Built in 1925 by Shaddrack and Victoria Ward, it served as a home for both blacks and Native Americans who needed a safe place to sleep at night. Located at 249 NW 9th Street, it was designated a historic site by the City of Miami in 2006. Today, it’s central to Overtown’s shopping, dining and entertainment district.
Gallery & Events
The Black Archives host events at Ward Rooming House inside its gallery and exhibition space, including a monthly spoken word series called Expressions. The evening features local spoken word poets, open mic, live jazz, neo-soul and a live DJ. With space for both indoor and outdoor programming, Ward Rooming House makes for a dynamic venue for culture and entertainment.
The Overtown Music & Arts Festival is an annual event anchored by the Ward Rooming House and its surrounding blocks on NW 3rd Avenue between NW 9th and 11th Streets. It’s a free all day festival held in July showcasing music, art, food and an interactive children’s village. The festival is a celebration of the community’s rich musical history.
Overtown Folklife Village
While the Ward Rooming House serves as a reminder of Overtown’s history, it’s also a symbol for the future. Its location in the heart of the Overtown Folklife Village positions it at the epicenter of commerce and activity in the community today. The village was conceived by the Black Archives as a pedestrian-friendly district, full of shopping, dining and sightseeing.
Explore the mural art of Purvis Young at the Culmer/Overtown Public Library, close to the beautifully landscaped Gibson Park where the crosswalks are painted in colorful designs and there’s a community garden nearby. Young’s folk art, verging on Abstract Expressionism, illustrated life in Miami’s inner city from the 1960s until his death in 2010 for all to see.
Crossing into Overtown from downtown Miami, visitors are greeted with another mural by Young on the overpass wall at NW 3rd Avenue and NW 11th Street. It reads “Welcome to Overtown” with Young’s signature imagery: wild horses, angels and city buildings painted in shades of yellow, green, pink and blue. Young is often considered the “unofficial historian of Overtown.”
Dine at Jackson’s Soul Food for a not-to-be-missed meal combining the flavors of the American South and the Caribbean in this legendary restaurant. Other classic spots to eat include People’s Bar-B-Que, Jerry & Joe’s Pizza and Moore’s Grocery & Bakery.
For shopping, stop by Moselle’s Boutique, Remix Apparel and a variety of barbershops for an authentic experience. Other historical sights, aside from the Ward Rooming House, include Historic Mount Zion Baptist Church, St. John Baptist Church and the Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum.
Overtown was once a thriving community nicknamed Little Broadway thanks to the legendary performers who graced its theaters and nightclubs, including The Lyric Theater where the likes of Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammie Davis Junior, Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday all performed. The Lyric Theater reopened with a Visitor Center Complex in 2014 during Black History Month, making it the oldest theater in Miami.
Overtown is a neighborhood with a rich history in the midst of revitalization. Thanks to the ongoing work of the Black Archives, and other groups, its heritage is celebrated today and will be preserved for generations to come.
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