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The Historic Parramore District

Written by: Savannah Perez

In the heart of Orlando, the Parramore District stands as the oldest and largest African-American neighborhood of the city, with a rich history dating back to the 1800’s. Elements of the neighborhood’s past are intertwined in every part of its present; Parramore’s residents and establishments are an important part of its iconic history. 


Here are a few of those icons you should know!

Dr. William Monroe Wells

Originally from Fort Gaines, FL, Dr. William Monroe Wells received his medical education at Meharry Medical College before relocating to Orlando in the 1920s. He worked as a general practitioner and stood as one of the early Black doctors in the city. During World War II, he served as the only Black doctor in Orlando for a year, and his dedication extended beyond the war era. Having delivered nearly 6,000 babies throughout his career, he left a lasting impact on countless lives. 

               Dr. Wells was a large presence in the community. Outside of his medical career, Dr. Wells worked to build the infrastructure of Parramore and unite the city. He was active in a number of community efforts and established some of the most historic community centers in Parramore, such as the South Street Casino and the Wells’Built Hotel. Dr. Wells’ impact can be seen today in the Parramore District through the Wells’Built Museum of African American History. 

Wells’ Built Hotel

Wells’Built Hotel

Constructed in 1926 at 511 West South Street and in the center of the Parramore District, stood the Wells’Built Hotel. Dr. Wells established the Wells’Built Hotel to provide lodging to African Americans visiting Orlando during segregation. Famous guests include Jackie Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Today, the Wells’Built Hotel has transformed into the immersive Wells’Built Museum of African American History. The museum features memorabilia, artifacts, art and a guest room with authentic furnishings of the 1930s, offering a tangible connection to the era. The building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2000, a testament to its enduring legacy. 


South Street Casino

Travel back in time to the origins of the South Street Casino (also known as the Quarterback Club), created by Dr. William M. Wells to be a hub for the younger residents of Parramore. The South Street Casino, despite its name, wasn’t a gambling den but a community hub. Built as a space for meetings, events, musical performances, recreation and sports, the casino became a buzzing center of community life from the 1930s through the 1950s.


Right next door, in the Wells’Built Hotel, the Quarterback Club had its beginnings. Starting as a private bottle club, it evolved into a hub for various social activities, run by local restaurant owner John Frasier, realtor Herndon Harrison, entrepreneur A.C. Price and a neighborhood dentist Manning. 


Following Dr. Wells’ passing in 1957, the South Street Casino closed its doors. The four businessmen relocated, leasing the building from the Wells family. The Quarterback Club opened their establishment to the public in this historical location, once again becoming a center for the community to gather. Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 1987 after fire damage, but its story lives on. 


Ebenezer United Methodist Church (594 West Church Street)

In 1872, a wooden structure took form on Church and Terry Streets, crafted by the hands of the community it served. This was Orlando’s first African American Methodist Church built by African Americans. In the 1920s, members of the church dedicated themselves to the labor of building its first Gothic-style brick structure. Services were held in this building until the congregation outgrew the facility. A new church was erected on the corner of Goldwyn Avenue and Monte Carlo Trail in 1971. 

Ebenezer United Methodist Church

Standing the test of time, the century-old Terry Street building remains a symbol of the past. Over the years, various additions were incorporated into the structure, concluding in 1959. Today, it houses the congregation of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.


Dr. Isaiah Sylvester Hankins

A prominent figure in the Parramore community, Dr. Isaiah Sylvester Hankins was born in Orlando in 1895. After completing his studies at Howard University Medical School, Dr. Hankins returned to Orlando to practice medicine. He was among 50 Orlando men who volunteered to contribute funds for the purchase and development of land for construction of homes for African Americans. He was a champion for improved race relations and Black home ownership. 

Dr. Hankins was often threatened and kept a gun in his medical bag during his travels across Central Florida. Despite obstacles such as denial of medical privileges by local hospitals and a lack of consultation from white physicians on patients’ conditions, he went on to become one of the first African American physicians to practice at Orange Memorial Hospital. Dr. Hankins faced adversity with resilience, going on to build the Hankins Building. His dedication to the community continued until his passing on August 24, 1991. 

Hankins Building

Built in 1947 by Dr. Isaiah Sylvester Hankins, the Hankins Building at 319 S. Parramore Avenue holds a unique historical significance. Serving as one of the first Black-owned and operated professional establishments catering to Black doctors and lawyers, it became a cornerstone in the community. The Hankins Building was home to the Orlando Chapter of the NAACP for years, as well as a dentist office, tailor shop and beauty salon.

Hankins Building at 319 S. Parramore Avenue

The Hankins Building is the sole Art Moderne commercial building in the historic district from the mid-1940s. Distinguished by its smooth wall surface, flat roof and projecting, rounded canopy, the building maintains its historical integrity to this day. 


Mercerdese Richardson Clark

Mercerdese Richardson Clark served as a nurse and civil rights activist in Orlando in the 1950s and 1960s, playing an integral role in the Parramore District. Mercerdese became the first African American to take the helm as the Orange County Health Department Director of Nursing. Her influence extended beyond the medical field. On Church Street, she owned and curated Clark’s Fashion Store. 

As an Orlando native with three generations of Orlando heritage, Clark had a deep love for her community and believed strongly in community investment. Not only an early advocate for the transformation of the Wells’Built Hotel into the Wells’Built Museum of African American Histor,; but she recognized the power of preserving Parramore’s history. 


Dr. Jerry B. Callahan

A trailblazing physician, Dr. Jerry B. Callahan, was born on a family-owned plantation in Abbeyville County, South Carolina in 1883. After earning his medical degree from Shaw University, he made the move to Orlando from Daytona Beach in 1908. The first African American physician to own his own medical practice in Orlando, he made history as the first African American doctor to practice surgery at Orange General Hospital (now known as Orlando Health).

On the corner of Parramore Avenue and Washington Street is the Dr. J. B. Callahan Neighborhood Center, named in Dr. Callahan’s honor. The Dr. J.B. Callahan Neighborhood Center stands as a living tribute, hosting programs and events that echo his impact on the Parramore community.

Each corner of the Parramore District tells a unique story, interwoven with pioneers and community leaders who have left an indelible mark on the city’s history. These stories aren’t just tales of the past; they are living narratives that actively shape the present and inspire future generations. The Parramore District stands as a testament to resilience, unity, and the enduring spirit of a community that has evolved into a beacon of cultural heritage and a catalyst for positive change in Orlando.

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