The Sterling Club, founded in 1918, is said to be the first African-American organization in St. Paul to have its own building. An article in the January 5, 1918 issue of The Appeal noted the establishment of a “new organization”, called the Sterling Club, for the purposes of “fostering civic pride, encouraging literary research, cultivation of sociability among our citizens…” among other goals.
At first the members met in individuals’ homes, and by early 1919 they had already begun to search for larger spaces in which to hold their meetings, lectures, and social events. Clarence “Cap” Wigington, a founding member, drafted plans for a clubhouse but it wasn’t until 1924 that their new building was constructed at 315 N. Dale Ave.
Wigington (whose nickname was drawn from his service in the Black Home Guards as a Captain, hence “Cap”) was the first African American senior architect in the city ‘s municipal office, engaged in designing a variety of public buildings from park structures to schools.
Members of the club included many if not most of the prominent African American leaders in the city alongside numbers of the porters, waiters, drivers and other Black residents of the Rondo community.
Their intent to foster civic pride was borne out especially in their efforts to bring speakers from around the country who would give lectures on activities, information, and social efforts around the country.
They held events to honor high school and college graduates, picnics, dances, “smokers”, in addition to their advocacy work when nationally-prominent Black speakers would visit St. Paul.
In 1958 they initiated an effort to move out of the Dale St. clubhouse due to plans for the I-94 freeway that would destroy nearby Rondo Ave., the central business street of the neighborhood. They turned again to Wigington to design the new space.
Members have often told the story about the city letting them know that they would not be allowed to build anything that looked like a “social club” or “clubhouse”, and that the new structure must resemble a residence. The resulting building, on N. St. Albans Street, looks just like the rest of the 1950s-60s homes in the neighborhood.
The Sterling Club remains a functioning, vibrant organization to this day, and celebrated its 100th anniversary in August, 2019.