The block structure was built in 1957, without heat or air conditioning, according to records kept by the Pasco County Property Appraiser’s Office.
It was located in Carver Heights, a predominantly black neighborhood where many people lived hard-scrabble lives.
And, during the next 20 years, the building attracted performers who would become some of the biggest names in soul-blues and R&B music.
Each of those musicians would travel down Bull Road — still a dirt lane southeast of Dade City. They would go past Ferguson Lake to make their way to the stage, inside the block structure.
It was a venue with a spacious dance floor and ornate Spanish-tiled bar.
And, that’s where bar-goers, who could get rowdy, had the chance to see performances by B.B. King or Ray Charles.
More often than not, people could hear the loud music outside as they passed the open pastures, as they did on the night that James Brown played.
Despite its remote location and wild weekends, this block structure became a juke joint variously known as “Rabbit’s Place,” “Jake’s Lakeside Tavern” and the “Cow Palace.”
It was part of the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit,” which the National Public Radio defines as “a touring circuit that provided employment for hundreds of black musicians and brought about the birth of Rock ’n’ Roll.”
Glenn Thompson, secretary of the Pasco County Historical Society, said the circuit’s name “derives from the soul food item chitterling” which is made from stewed pig intestines.
Thompson is a big fan of the local Chitlin’ Circuit Preservation Society, co-founded by Scott Place, which is seeking funding to restore and save one of Florida’s historic blues clubs.
“We want to be like the Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee,” Place said. That juke joint was shuttered for nearly 20 years before it reopened in the 1990s.
Place also points to other success stories on the old Chitlin’ Circuit, such as the Jackson House in Tampa, the Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg and the Cotton Club in Gainesville.
Place, a Dade City blues musician who performs under the name “Howlin’ Buzz,” hopes future generations will have a chance to know more about the Cow Palace and its historic links to stars like King, a relatively unknown artist who brought a Chitlin’ Circuit tour to the Cow Palace in the late 1950s.
Buddy Guy played at the Cow Palace early in his career and was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Eric Clapton and B.B. King on March 14, 2005.
Writing on his Facebook page, Guy said: “The tone (B.B. King) got out of that guitar, the way he shook his left wrist, the way he squeezed the strings…Man, he came out with that, and it was all new to the whole guitar-playin’ world.”
The Cow Palace attracted stars and fans to a very poor neighborhood.
“There was nothing like that anywhere in Tampa Bay,” recalled George Romagnoli, in a news report published 25 years ago.
First subdivided in 1946 by Stanley Cochrane, the subdivision where the Cow Palace sits likely was named after the renowned botanist George Washington Carver, according to Bill Dayton, a member and former chairman of the Dade City Historic Preservation Advisory Board.
“Maybe he had an admiration for Carver,” Dayton told The St. Petersburg Times in 1998. “Or maybe he just thought it was an appropriate name for a black subdivision,” Dayton added.
No regularly hosted events have been held at the Cow Palace since the mid-1970s, but a jam session there two years ago drew approximately 100 musicians and guests.
“We found out there was no commercial zoning, and that’s what we need for live entertainment in the future,” Place said.
Even with rezoning issues and the challenges of restoration, Place believes people would stand in line to enter the Cow Palace as they did 50 years ago.
“They would admit as many people as possible (back then). But, there was only one way in — or out,” Place said, with a smile.
Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at .
Published May 24, 2017