The Pearl Closes in Springfield

September 2, 2012 14 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Pearl, opened in 2005 on Main Street, closed on its seven year anniversary. Owned by Christy Frazier, one of Jacksonville's most colorful and creative nightclub moguls, it leaves behind a barren and now completely dead Springfield Main Street. Its opening was not without controversy, and the ongoing battles with the city, rival club tsi, and the economy made the seven years a pretty exciting run. Join us for great photos and more info after the jump.

The announcement was short, sweet and sad.  Posted on facebook:

With a very heavy heart, I am here to announce that tonight is our 7 year anniversary and our last night. We really hope to see nearly everybody whom has ever attended the Pearl over the past 7 years. You honestly have no idea how grateful we are to have worked here and met each and every one of you. We would not have lasted this long without you. We hope tonight will be a celebration and not a sad night. We hope we can talk to you and share hugs. Mostly we just want to see you dance one more time. Please bring a smiling face tonight and dancing shoes (and a camera). We want tonight to be the most memorable night we have ever had.

And that was the end of The Pearl, Christy Frazier's amazingly hip little club on Main Street.  The gateway to the historic Springfield area, and a mainstay for seven years.

Christy's pantheon of the clubs she has opened and committed herculean efforts towards is impressive.

She started with The Art Bar, in Riverside on King Street in 1999.  It was in the building currently owned by Jacksonville Magazine.

She expanded out from there, moving downtown to a Klutho building on Adams Street, where she built out a pretty impressive loft for herself in the second floor and hoped to open a very cool little club downtown called "Heaven".

She then opened Velvet in San Marco.

Followed by The Pearl on Main Street and she acquired the Starlight in Five Points which she dubbed 'Birdies".

Three of these clubs have been major successes, and legacies for her in Jacksonville.  But it has never been easy and her successes have come at a tremendous cost in time and money.  But her story tells the modern history of independent clubs and nightlife over the past fifteen years in Jacksonville.

Christy Frazier in person is a hyperactive, graceful optimist.  She rarely sleeps, and her one defining characteristic is that she stays busy.  Supernaturally busy.  Busy with her hands.  Busy with new ventures.  She is plugged into her own life, and the lives of the people around her in visceral touching ways.  Oddly she is also an intensely private person who agonizes over the prospect of speaking in public or having the details of her life put out for display in the press.

She is attractive, sometimes glamorous, and wildly charismatic to the people around her.  Most of her employees would take a bullet for her, and she is surrounded by profoundly loyal people who form a fiercely protective ring from the vagaries of life in Art, Clubs and entertainment.

Perhaps this is because the closer you are to her, the more deeply you realize her vulnerable nature, and that despite the fact that she has taken her lumps in business (lumps that would cause less determined people to quit and probably leave town) and keeps on ticking, she still feels the stings, the slings and arrows.

There is something poisonous in the waters of Jacksonville when it comes to the opening and running of clubs.

More than any other town, Jacksonville has warm and embracing 'scenes' that coalesce into spaces that transform bars or nightclubs into something more.  Jacksonville's creative class has no real home in the institutions and meager representations of cultural outlets, the academic outlets are generally political and closed to non students, and the traditionally funded arts venues simply do not give a shit about anyone under the age of 40.  If you havent put in your dues, worked on the volunteer boards, and destroyed whatever ounce of inspiration that might have once driven you to the cultural community, then you are not going to get any of the jobs, contracts, money, recognition or (more importantly) opportunity to grow and expand that such institutions normally provide the Creative Classes of other cities.

For this reason, at least since the 1970s, the most creative, the most profoundly talented, and the most original culture of this town has been more commonly found working in the bars and nightclubs than in the offices and venues.

If you think about it, Jacksonville's two greatest contributions to international culture in the past 40 years (Southern Fried Rock and Modern Skateboarding) certainly were not done with the blessing of the nonces we keep promoting to leadership.  In fact, not only have the incredible musicians of the southern fried rock movement (like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, 38 Special and so many others) and the incredible athletes that invented modern skating (like the Ollie, vertical tricks and so many ubiquitous moves) never been recognized for their achievements, but those same nonces did their best to make both things illegal.

So the cultural people, left with no real other options devolve into the bars and nightclubs----or at least a handful of them at any given time--- and those places serve more functions in our city besides just a place to go grab a beer.

They are where people meet, think, talk, end up collaborating, and often times the only venues that give the repressed local talent a place to perform or display their talents.

For the 1970s, it was apparently the Comic Book Club and according to some---Playground South.

In the 1980s, a curious little club at Jax Beach became the epicenter for the city young and creative talent.  Einstein a go go.

So many good things came from there, and even today, many of the people who have begun taking the reins of our cultural leadership are Einstein alumni.  Carmen Godwin of RAP, George Kinghorn who decided to switch the identity of the downtown museum from a 'modern art' to a 'contemporary art' museum while he was director spring to mind.  There are many many others of course.

But after Einstein a go go closed, and Five Points became the center of indie culture in the city, there was a bit of a gap.  It was filled for a while by Fusion Cafe, and then MotoLounge.

All three of these places were the subject of intense harrassment from the locals.  The raids at Einstein a go go were pretty famous.

Police threatened to arrest people standing in line to get into Fusion Cafe for 'blocking the sidewalks', There were routine fire inspections, health department complaints, and other forms of harrassment.

MotoLounge moved from Lakewood and was basically closed down by a younger, less open minded Matt Carlucci because the Lakewooders didnt much like the looks of the creative types.

It was into that gap that Christy first opened up the Art Bar.  And what a huge success it was.  It had a brilliant vibe, and Christy was committed to using the space as an outlet for artists.  And she did.  She attracted the einsteiners and an entirely new generation of creative types that were fundamentally turned off by the clownshow fetish and freak parade that had become Five Points by 1999.

Art Bar on King Street

Shaun Thurston, spraying original murals on the back patio of the art bar

spraying original murals on the back patio of the art bar

DJ Ricky and uber talented musician, Christina Wagner, two of Christys most loyal and popular inner circle.

Christy herself doing the catholic school girl thing at Art Bar

Ian Ranne, the owner of The Phoenix, Burro Bar and Shanty Town, as his younger self inside the art bar

The interior of the art bar was crammed with hand painted intricate designs by the indefatigable Ms. Frazier.

Common People by Pulp.  Kindof the soundtrack to the Art Bar at the beginning.

In the meantime, the city's creative class began to shift and move around a bit.

Venues began opening in downtown and San Marco as well as the old Springfield ghetto.

Christy followed suit with the spaces set aside for Heaven downtown and Velvet in San Marco.

She ended up selling her interest in Velvet to her partners, according to most insiders---as a result of the debacle that ensued over the attempt at opening "Heaven."

Heaven was to be located in the old gas building designed by Henry Klutho on Adams Street.  However, she had the misfortune of being right next door to the renovated loft of one of her competitors.  The owner of the Eclipse.

The Art Bar, naturally, had cut deeply into his business by attracting away the younger half of the crowd that had been going there.

According to some, Ben had no intention of having the popular young impresario open a second place to compete with his club, and certainly not next door to his part time residence.

He did to Christy what the self appointed groups of Avondale are doing to the Mellow Mushroom and for pretty much exactly the same reasons.  Protesting the permiting, lobbying intensely against her, blocking any possibility of obtaining a liquor liscense.  Enlisting a number of unspoken powerbroking allies to speak against her cause.

As it happened, another girl club impressaria, Lisa Thomas of Thee Imperial was going through the same thing at the hands of the same group of old men downtown who didnt feel it was proper for a woman to own a liquor liscense.

But Lisa was better funded and had family money to back her up.  Christy spent a fortune on the project and then had to abandon it.  her handiwork is still visible on the building itself though.  During the entire process, she kept busy and hand cemented in thousands of little mirrored tiles inside the round arch of the doorway into the buildling.  It took her weeks to finish, and in the end, she moved out without recouping her investment.  

People who know and remember this terrible and basically unfair episode can barely walk by the doorway without thinking of Christy on a ladder, hand setting all those little bits of mirrored glass.

But the upshot of it all was that she sold Velvet, moved out of Downtown and recouped back to the Art Bar.

Which was having its own problems.

Apparently the president of the Merchant's Bank across the street from the Art Bar had decided that the problem with the area was the presence of her wonderful, neighborhood making litle club.  Harrassment against Christy began, this time driven by the Bank.  

Now of course, in retrospect, it is clear that he was too busy writing bad loans, selling sub prime mortgages and recklessly gambling on the real estate bubble to pay any attention to the fact that the Art Bar was one of the nicer things about the nieghborhood.  The relationship got acrimonious and expensive.

At about this time, Springfield really had begun heating up.

Check out these old night club stories from the Times Union:  Art Bar, Boomtown and Eden are all mentioned:

Boomtown, Henriettas, 9th and Main, Carls place, Epicurean, and Moe's were joined by Jason Grimes and Ryan Rummel who decided to open their own bar in a seedy old whiskey bar called 1st and Main liquors.

The building makes a pretty good cameo appearance in the beginning of Chad Hendrick's ghetto zombie blaxploitation film:  Insane in the Brain.  (fast forward to the 9:53 time mark)

The Bar was renovated, hipsterfitted and opened as 'TSI'.

It was in immediate smash hit in the indie and younger creative class community.  People converged in Springfield from all over the community and the guys from TSI were the first clubowners to use the power of social media to build their crowd and even book their bands.

Young creative types met, meshed and eventually started projects on their own.  It was a bona fide 'space' in the jacksonville sense of the word, and the crowds started growing.  Check out some of the following pics (lifted from Tommy Armageddon's Jax Scene website):

Then things got a little interesting.

Competition between the Art Bar and TSI started feeling (and getting) personal.

Ryan and Jason were both Art Bar alumni, and like most of the Creative Class venue owners, were personal friends and intimates with their peers, including of course, Christy.

There was a lot of competition, especially over Thursday Night, which for twenty years had traditionally been the biggest night for Creative Class barhopping. (no one really knows why---except for weekends being for amatuers and all)  It was the night that Art Bar made most of its money, and which paid for the operation and profit of the club.

TSI cut deeply into the night.

And then Christy did something a little shocking.

The Art Bar wasnt going to get a lease renewal in Riverside.  The bank (now closed by the feds and bought out by another bank) had pretty much seen to that.

So Christy bought the building that TSI was located in, refused to renew their lease, and began eviction proceedings.

The guys from TSI balked and considered litigation, and the tensions ratcheted up.

The culminated one night while TSI was open for business.

Christy was prevented from interrupting the club (which leased the bottom floor of the building) in the course of its business.  She couldnt change the locks or bar the doors.

Instead a construction crew went to work on the upstairs spaces, and in the stairway leading up to it.

Chainsaws and sledge hammers began busting out the plaster that separated the spaces.  Plaster and wood began spraying everywhere onto the TSI dancefloor.

There was a standoff that ended up in major cop action.

TSI decided to close, and secretly decided to relocate.

They kept the details of their plans completely silent and began the transition to their present location on Bay Street, but it was the beginning of a feud which kept the indie kids buzzing for seven years.

The Pearl.

Christy completely gutted the building.

This time she did catch a bit of a break from the powers that were.  The LOLAS (little old ladies at SPAR) generally like the intrepid young woman, and were appalled at some of the more acrimonious details of the departure of TSI.

Christy did not face a campaign to prevent her from closing this time, instead she was given help.

She was foiled in her attempt to mirror tile the top of the building (after she had already done a good bit of the work) but she created one of the most unique and creative club environments in the city's history inside.

She personally handcrafted a number of very realistic looking treest to go around the support beams that lined the center of the space.  She mirrored, tiled,handcrafterd, bedazzled and otherwise decorated every square inch of the place.  Heavy velvet drapes were installed.  Awnings which finaly dressed up the building were constructed.  She created another outdoor patio to recreate the environment from the ART BAR.

Check out what the Times Union had to say about her in '05, at the opening:

The club went on to become a legendary place.  Full of color, bombast, eccenricities and characters.  And for seven years, It stayed open--despite the ongoing code enforcement wars and the relelentless counterprogramming and feud with TSI.

It was a place where every spectrum of gender, orientation, religion, taste, race and creed mixed and mingled happily, and for three years it has been the only thing open on Main Street.

These are photos from the closing night, posted on their facebook page:

Christy on right.

the staff of The Pearl.

And so now what?

What will become of the building?  Will it stay empty?  Will it drain Main Street of its last bit of vibrance?

For now, Christy retracts to her club in Five Points.

But will she go on to other ventures?

The business is after all, exhausting.  Not just from the normal pressure of the nightclub world, but the constant battles with the various brigades of people with an ax to grind.  A sabbatical can do wonders, but there has to be support there too.  Christy is surrounded by well wishers, and is a very young, very dynamic character, so who knows.

The Pearl was an amazing place, and it performed a pretty great service for the Springfield neighborhood.  Main street loses more than just a club with its closing.

article by stephen dare
photos by tommy armageddon
The Pearl facebook page.