American Beach Neighborhood Planning
American Beach, located on the south end of Amelia Island in Nassau County, Florida, has the distinction of being one of the few remaining beach resort communities in the nation developed specifically by and for African Americans. Developed by the Afro-American Life Insurance Company in 1935, American Beach was until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act one of the few beaches in the Southeast available to African Americans. Even with the increased availability of beach resort opportunities for African Americans, American Beach continued to survive during the 1960’s and 70’s as a distinctive beach community composed predominately of single family beach cottages. (Source: Historic Building Survey of American Beach, 1998)
American Beach is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Starting in 2018, Nassau County PEO staff have been working with the American Beach community on possible long-term planning strategies.
- View a presentation on potential planning strategies for the neighborhood.
- View a presentation made to the Board of County Commissioners on exploring a Community Redevelopment Area in American Beach. The BOCC directed PEO staff to work on exploring this possibility at their 9/19/2018 meeting.
- View Community Redevelopment Area informational handouts presented at the August 24, 2019 community meeting.
- The following presentations were shared at the September 28, 2019 community meeting:
- Visit the County Facebook page and click here for the link to watch streaming County meetings.
- Information on fire protection in American Beach from the Nassau County Fire Chief.
- View presentation from the November 16, 2019 Community Meeting.
- Presentation from 1/11/2020 meeting sharing community survey results and potential next steps.
- Handout: Master Plan, Conservation District, and Historic District Examples
Planning staff is working with members of the community, as well as the County Facilities Department, on future revitalization plans for the Evans' Rendezvous.
American Beach became popular with Jacksonville-area residents, but thousands of people from across the Southeast and country visited American Beach. Notable visitors included Mary McLeod Bethune, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ray Charles, and Zora Neale Hurston. As the community grew, it included homes, rental cabins, small motels, and affiliated commercial sites. One of the most popular and enduring commercial buildings was the Evans' Rendezvous, an oceanfront restaurant, bar, and entertainment venue. Says Marsha Dean Phelts, author of The American Beach Book of Homes, “To say Evans’ Rendezvous was the most frequented spot on American Beach understates its popularity and impact on this resort community.” Remembered by visitors as the "heartbeat and synergy" of the community, the Evans' was a 200-seat establishment, serving food and drinks and home to musical entertainment and dancing. Started in 1948 by Willie Evans, Sr., the Rendezvous operated continuously until 2000, when it closed.
In 2004, with assistance from the Trust for Public Land and the Florida Communities Trust, Nassau County obtained ownership of the Rendezvous site for purposes of creating an American Beach Historical Park. Since 2004, initial restoration work has been completed on the structure. After this initial rehabilitation work was completed, no further plans were put in place to continue the project.
A management plan for the property was executed in 2005 that restricts the uses of the site. Specifically, the plan requires continued public access to the beach, protection of the beach dunes, use of Evans’ for public interpretation, recreation and social event uses, focus on preservation and interpretation of the American Beach National Historic District, and restoration of native vegetation.
In 2018, County staff formed an Evans’ Rendezvous Task Force with staff from the Planning and Economic Opportunity Department and the County’s Facilities Director, and several members of the American Beach community, including representatives of the American Beach Property Owners’ Association (ABPOA), Friends of American Beach (FOAB), and the adjacent property owner. The Task Force has met several times to determine a process for continuing progress and moving forward to see the Evans’ brought back to life. The Task Force determined that because the management plan outlines the future use of the structure, the next best step was to proceed with architectural and engineering construction documents.
Nassau County submitted a grant application to have the architectural and engineering documents completed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2019, but was unfortunately not selected for the grant. The Task Force is regrouping on possible funding options. Stay tuned!