The city of West Palm Beach has approved a historic designation for iconic LGBT bar H.G. Rooster’s.
The bar, located at 823 Belvedere Road, is now on the city’s local register of historic places.
“This evening’s vote was unanimous. It’s a huge honor to be recognized. Our hearts are full,” owner A.J. Wasson said after the April 5 hearing before the city commission.
The historic preservation board had previously approved the designation on March 22.
“As historic preservation evolves, there is a need to continue to identify sites that are significant to under-represented communities and tell a more comprehensive story of the past,” the designation reads. “The site is significant, not necessarily for its architecture … but more for the role the location has played in the community.”
Rooster’s is a place where people have congregated since 1984, but its roots go back even further than that, when it was Turf West in the 1960s. Customers describe it as the heart and soul of the LGBT community in the Palm Beaches — a lifesaver for many over the years. It has been a leader in charitable efforts for AIDS organizations and others and has sponsored many Pride events over the years.
“[The designation] will ensure that people remember some of the things we went through as a community in the ‘80s during the AIDS epidemic,” Wasson said. “Rooster’s has a legacy of giving and caring and this designation will cement that legacy well into the future after we’re all gone.”
The designation comes almost a year after Rooster’s suffered a devastating fire in May of 2020 during the early months of the pandemic.
An accidental blaze destroyed the kitchen and parts of the roof. There were extensive smoke and water damage throughout the 2,700 square foot building — more than $500,000 worth. The bar’s insurance policy had lapsed in April as well.
The community immediately stepped up and pledged almost $60,000 through a GoFundMe campaign — including checks mailed in by anonymous donors.
The West Palm Beach Firefighters Association donated $9,000 and Earl and Nancy Stewart, who are well-known for their Toyota dealerships, donated $10,000.
Friederike Mittner, the city’s historic preservation planner, said the designation is valuable to Rooster’s from a practical standpoint. It’s a way for the business to restore the structure without the addition of typical modifications, and the designation provides tax exemptions it otherwise wouldn’t receive. Variance requests would take place before the historic preservation board instead of planning and zoning, for example, streamlining processes.
“But in a broader sense it’s honoring a diverse heritage and history in our city and a significant gathering space that has been involved in many philanthropic endeavors,” Mittner said.
It is thought there are fewer than a dozen LGBT bars across the country that are locally designated historic sites, with Rooster’s being the only one in Florida. That fact alone, Mittner said, provides a draw and marketing opportunity for the bar and the city.
Other bars with the designation include Stonewall Inn in New York City and the Atlanta Eagle in Atlanta.
In terms of reopening the bar, Wasson said the designation will also make the permitting process easier. The exterior will stay true to form, but customers will notice a vastly updated interior.
Wasson said his architects are almost done with design plans. He expects about a six-month construction phase once the plans are approved.
“There are always hiccups along the way, but we’re hoping late fall or early winter [to reopen],” he said. “It’s been like a dream come true. I consider myself to be the current caretaker, not the owner. It belongs to the community.”
Stay up to date on the reopening by finding Rooster’s on Facebook by searching “HGRoosters.”