The heat and smell of hot flat irons and Mizani leave-in-conditioner fill the air inside Noche Berry’s Salon. Franklin Berry, the salon’s owner, paces back and forth as he checks on a client under the dryer and then goes to finish up another’s fresh silk press.
While there are plenty of stylists who specialize in Black hair on Galveston Island, many of them operate privately out of their homes, Berry said. As far as Berry knows, his salon is the only public Black-owned salon in Galveston.
Noche Berry’s Salon – located inside the Miller Building on Market Street – is one of three Black-owned businesses on this small commercial strip tucked away on a dead-end street and surrounded by the Galveston Port’s expansive parking lots and a city office.
On Thursday, the city of Galveston will consider recognizing the Miller Building as a historical landmark. To Berry and the rest of the building’s tenants, this designation would mean the rich Black history the building holds won’t be erased like many things before it.
Berry remembers a time when this entire street was full of Black people and businesses.
Some of his earliest memories of the building are from when he was a little boy on his school’s dance team. He used to practice behind the Miller building but was never allowed to come inside. The building mostly housed nightclubs – a place for grown-ups, not kids.
But no matter who was there, Berry always distinctly remembered Black people walking in and out of the doors. Although his younger self wasn’t allowed inside, to have a piece of that history now feels surreal.
“For this building to still be here after so many years, and for Black people to be owning it, it holds a special place … because we don’t have spaces for us anymore,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that goes out into the community and comes out of this building …. So it’s very important that we keep it here, and that they do make it a landmark and that we will have a place to go. We won’t be forced out because we literally don’t have anywhere else.”
The Miller Building, currently owned by lifelong Galveston resident Rosalyn Jackson, is home to three Black-owned businesses, including Noche Berry’s Salon. Other tenants include Club 68, a bring-your-own-beverage nightclub, and Ophelia’s, a soul food restaurant.
While Jackson has owned the building since 2020, she said the building has been serving Galveston’s Black community since its inception in 1951.
Located in Galveston’s historically Black Old Central neighborhood, the commercial wood framed building was opened by Steven Miller, a Turkish immigrant. His first tenants, a beauty salon and a bar, were both owned and operated by African Americans, according to city documents.
While historically the building’s tenants were mostly geared toward nightlife, the property consistently held a grocery store from 1952 to 1996 that was largely owned by African Americans. This grocery store and other tenants in the shopping center became the retail hub for Black residents in the area.
Across the street from the strip was Bay View Homes, a segregated housing community for Black war workers, veterans and their families. This neighborhood is also home to Star State Engine House No. 3 where the first Black firemen in the city were hired in the 1950s.
Today, its legacy as the go-to spot for Black nightlife continues through Jackson’s Club 68.
At Club 68, guests can be found on the dance floor.
Two-stepping to classics from Al Green to Johnny Gill is encouraged while DJ TNT is in the booth on Friday nights.
Bars and clubs of many names have occupied the club’s space and they are all remembered for the fun and good times they’ve brought. It has even attracted celebrities like Tina Knowles – Beyonce’s mother – whose photo at the nightclub hangs proudly on the wall.
But as one of the few Black-owned bars on the island, Club 68 is so much more than a place to have a drink and a good time, Jackson said.
Today, the space largely acts as a community center. Tables topped with runners and chairs wrapped in white cloth and secured by blue ribbons are set up for a multitude of occasions. Club 68 has hosted repass services, Thanksgiving dinners, back-to-school giveaways, birthday parties and more.
When she was asked to take over Club 68 in 2017 after the previous owner passed away, Jackson said she felt scared but excited. Most of all, she wanted to make sure the building remained a place for Black Galvestonians and didn’t disappear like other places in the past.
While no one from the City of Galveston has approached her about purchasing the building, she worries they may eventually want it to turn it into parking for the ports nearby.
“Everything in Galveston is memories. We can say, ‘That was there or that was there,’ but it’s not there no more,” she said.
Every Friday and Sunday night, Fredrick Marsh, 85, takes his seat in an oversized blue throne chair in the front parlor of Club 68. He orders a Miller Lite and tunes into whichever sports game is on the TV. Tonight it’s the World Series. The Diamondbacks are up 5-3 against the Rangers in the third inning.
Marsh said he likes coming to Club 68 where he’s surrounded by people who look like him. For Marsh, a historic landmark designation would ensure the building remains as-is.
“They can live without this little piece of property,” he said of people who may be interested in buying the building.
Soul food and the Miller Commercial Building have a deep history in Edward Benjamin’s life.
For 31 years, his uncle ran the most happening Black club in town, Paradise. Right down the street, his grandmother owned a restaurant called LX Barbeque. Watching her cook when he was young is where his passion for food began.
To now be in the same building his uncle occupied for decades and to be able to name his restaurant after his grandmother is “a dream come true,” he said.
Jackson said she loves being able to give people like Benjamin the opportunity to live out their dreams. Everyday, she said she hears pleas from people in the community to keep the building alive.
“It means a lot to me that I can keep on doing this so that we can have somewhere to go,” Jackson said. “Once you leave this alley… this is it.”