BRANDYWINE, MD (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Residents of a town in southern Prince George’s County in Maryland have started fighting a planned redevelopment at Wilmer’s Park, a once popular venue for the nation’s biggest black entertainers.
The 80-acre site, complete with wooden bleachers along the hillside and a dancehall and amphitheater, used to draw as many as 20,000 to see stars like James Brown and Stevie Wonder as one of the major stops along the east coast “Chitlin’ Circuit” of concert venues in the 1950s and ‘60s. Black musicians and audiences found refuge from Jim Crow discrimination at the outdoor facility, making it a cultural landmark.
“When they had major stars, there would be so many people that everyone couldn’t get inside the hall,” Herman Windsor, a local farmer, told the Washington Post. “You’d have people flowing out of the building.”
A developer has a proposal to revive the musical tradition of Wilmer’s Park that includes a 5,000- to 6,000-seat theater, a restaurant a cultural center. But residents are concerned with the plans for a 500-unit condominium elderly community, a church, a shopping center, a nightclub, a hotel and recreational facilities, that many Brandywine residents contend are out of character with the area’s rural surroundings and history.
“I realize so much has been lost,” Bruce Chatman, a former IBM exec who developed the plans for the site after he purchased it in 2003, told the paper. “I have a strong affinity for trying to save that part of our cultural heritage.”
The property is currently zoned for open space, which permits only one house per five acres and virtually no commercial development, but has applied for a special exemption for what he calls a “rural entertainment park” that promotes “an important cultural or historical theme.”
A bill has already passed through city council, but is expected to come up for a final vote in the next few weeks. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers