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How did social life sound at the Loendi Club?

by William Garcia

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A pillar of prestige since it was founded in 1897, the Loendi Club, located at 83 Fullerton Street in the Lower Hill District, maintained an exclusive roster of elite, African-American members. The club boasted elegant dining rooms for business discussions, game rooms for recreation, and a well-appointed library for quiet reflection. The luxurious atmosphere, complete with exquisite carpets and artwork by renowned Black artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, signaled the exclusivity of the Loendi Club. Although only select guests walked through the Loendi doors, Charles “Teenie” Harris’ photographs of the space offer us a glimpse into the high life. Considering his photo of women playing bridge at Loendi Club in 1956, what if we could go deeper and listen to the image instead of only viewing it?

Women playing bridge in Loendi Club with musical notes on wall and carpet with rose motif, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

Loendi Ambience
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Created by William Garcia and Ben Grossman

In the sound clip, you will hear the murmur of conversation, as the women play the card game bridge. Listen for the soft shuffle of cards, punctuated by the clinking sound of drinking glasses being set down on the table. A burst of laughter erupts, momentarily breaking their concentration. The musical notes painted on the wall are whimsical, but also remind us that the club members were important arts patrons. In the background, you can hear a record player projecting the smooth vocals of Lena Horne singing "I'd Do Anything," a song that was released the same year as this picture was taken. Lena Horne was a club favorite, not only because her husband was a member, but also because she performed there regularly with Charlotte Catlin, an esteemed Pittsburgh pianist who taught jazz legend Billy Strayhorn. The women in this room were probably fans who owned Horne’s records and were proud to know the star through the Loendi circle.

The sound clip above does not allow you to hear the specific conversations of the club members. During this period, African American women’s clubs were active organizations. Courier correspondent Hazel Garland reported on a Pittsburgh convention for the 1956 Pennsylvania State Federation of Negro Women's Clubs, and spotlighted social topics that likely concerned the women at the Loendi. At the convention, a workshop titled “Integration” addressed initiatives to end segregation and to promote racial equality. Addressing the importance of education, teachers were advised to attend summer school to advance their careers. The convention also hosted a fashion show featuring the clothing of community designers, showing the organizations’ support of entrepreneurship and local business growth. This social context offers us a chance to look beyond the photograph and think more specifically about the conversations and important social matters at the Loendi Club in the 1950s.

Hazel Garland, first African-American woman to serve as editor-in-chief of a nationally circulated newspaper, reported on Pittsburgh community happenings.
Pittsburgh Courier, 16 July 1955.

What do you think the Loendi women might have discussed at their bridge tables in 1956?
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SOURCES

Harris, Charles “Teenie.” “Women playing bridge in Loendi Club with musical notes on
wall and carpet with rose motif.” 1956.


Whitaker, Mark. Smoketown: The Other Great Black Renaissance. New York: Simon &
Shuster, 2023.


Garland, Hazel. “Things to talk about.” Pittsburgh Courier (Jul 16, 1955): 12.

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