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If economy recovers, Sunset may too

Last week we wrapped up Black History Month with the story of the Sunset, the lounge in northwest West Palm Beach that, in the 1940s and 1950s, drew top bands and hundreds of patrons, both black and white.

sunsetclub
Count Basie and his orchestra perform at the Sunset Club in an undated photo. The club drew top bands and hundreds of patrons in the 1940s and 1950s. But in 1978, owners Dennis and Thelma Starks turned the cavernous second floor into apartments and rented out the first floor to a social fraternity.The downstairs lounge continued to draw the likes of James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner and eventually went disco. It still operates as a bar. New owner Vera Kaminester, who bought the property in 2006 for $446,622, says she’s waiting for the city to move on plans for a jazz district and the economy to recover before putting a million dollars into renovations to restore the Sunset to its former, hot and bopping glory. (Photo courtesy of Thelma Starks)

Integration killed the Sunset. Once performers could play where they wanted, and people could watch where they wanted, the club’s fame dwindled.

In 1978, owners Dennis and Thelma Starks turned the cavernous second floor into apartments. Dennis retired and rented out the first floor to a social fraternity.

The downstairs lounge continued to draw the likes of James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner and eventually went disco. It still operates as a bar.

As decades passed, the neighborhood deteriorated.

Dennis Starks died in 1987; “his grave is worn out from him turning over,” Starks said in 2006.

The 75-plus-year-old lime-green and fuchsia building stands like a dinosaur a few blocks northwest of the Palm Beach County Courthouse.

In 2003, consultants for the city suggested creating a jazz district, with the Sunset as its keystone.

Three years later, the city included the idea in a planned $16.2 million renovation of the neighborhood.

There’s not been much movement since then, but the city says it’s now trying to gear up.

In 2006, records show, investors Vera and Joel Kaminester bought the property for $446,622. They said they expected to spend about $1 million to buy and restore the Sunset.

Vera Kaminester now says she’s waiting for the city to move and the economy to recover.

Thelma Starks, who spent most of her life working with the American Red Cross, died Aug. 24, 2008, at 91.

In February 2006 Thelma Starks recalled the club she and husband Dennis ran in its heyday. Click the image below to listen to her recollections and see historic photos:

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog and Eliot Kleinberg March 5, 2009 at 10:14 am.

4 comments

4 Replies

  1. Love that building.

  2. jacqueline haddocks Apr 5th 2013

    i was taken to the sunset in 1954 by my husband mclane ricky haddocks sr.. it was the thrill of my life.. i loved music and respectable people, and the sunset was the place. i was there for the duke ellington dance in 1957. another thrill. those days are gone forever as they used to say. a new generation a new time new people make a difference , but they can still have fun in a respectable way. sincerely jackie haddocks


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