|City/Town: • Montgomery
|Location Class: • Commercial • Theatrical
|Built: • 1940 | Abandoned: • 2013
|Status: • Abandoned
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit
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Better known as the Rose Supper Club, the State Theater opened in 1940 located at 954 Highland Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama, and operated until 1955. It was constructed for the local black community in Centennial Hill, a prominent black business district that developed in the 1870s.
The building is a few blocks from the Dexter Parsonage Museum where Martin Luther King Jr. used to live, and the Ben Moore Hotel, a black-owned hotel where community meetings and activities were held during the civil rights movement. The historic Tulane Building is located two blocks east on the corner of High and Ripley Streets which was the home and business of Victor Tulane. The old Blessed Sacrament Convent is also located nearby, a school established in 1913 by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for the local black community.
Throughout the following six decades, the building would house various nightclubs, but would also be the site of multiple robberies, physical assaults, and homicides.
Top Flight Disco
In 1951, Wilbur J. Jackson opened Club DeLisa at 374 West Jefferson Davis Avenue after failing to acquire a liquor license for its previous iteration, Club Alabam. Despite the name change, Jackson was denied a liquor license once again. Soon after, the business was purchased by Frank Armstead and continued to operate under the name Club DeLisa.
On February 15, 1959, police officers raided Club DeLisa after receiving a tip about illegal gambling and found a mechanical dice game in progress. Armstead was charged with running a gambling game and for possession of gambling equipment. His legal troubles didn’t end there. In June 1959, he was charged with failing to pay taxes for eight months for Club DeLisa and the Tradesmen’s Club which he also operated.
Top Flight Disco opened in 1979 in the former Club DeLisa building and closed in December 1997 after years of shootings and illegal activity occurring in and around the nightclub. Montgomery City Councilman Ben McNeill explained, “They’ve got to know that we’re not going to put up with trouble. We want people to have clean, safe places to go in Montgomery.” Council members admitted that alcohol, crowds, and late nights would inevitably brew trouble on occasion, but didn’t want one bar to become a drain on the city’s police. Below are some of the incidents which occurred throughout the years at Top Flight Disco.
September 1980 – Negligent Discharge, Death
On September 11, 1980, 20-year-old David Fuller, a student at Trenholm State Technical College, was shot at Top Flight Disco and was pronounced dead on arrival at Jackson Hospital. According to police, Fuller and a nightclub employee, Johnny Lee Perryman, were talking outside when Perryman pulled out a .38-caliber revolver from his waistband to show it to Fuller. The gun discharged, hitting Fuller.
November 1985 – Shooting
A 62-year-old man was arrested after shooting a bouncer in front of Top Flight Disco on November 28, 1985. John Fitzpatrick reportedly entered the nightclub at about 2 a.m., asking about a vehicle blocking his driveway. He argued with Darryl Pollard, a bouncer for the nightclub, before shooting him in the abdomen. Pollard was reportedly in stable condition sometime later.
February 1991 – Shooting
On February 1, 1991, a man was shot as he and a couple of friends were leaving Top Flight Disco when they were approached by six men, one armed with a handgun. Although it is unknown was led to the shooting, a spokesperson for the MPD described it as “alcohol-related.”
January 1994 – Double Homicide
In the early hours of January 9, 1994, Walter Lee Lewis and William C. Hayes Jr. were shot and killed outside Top Flight Disco. Lewis was killed when entered his right armpit and punctured both lungs. Hayes died having been shot seven times, including once in the head. It was said that “the slain men’s blood stained sections of 900 High Street hours after medics removed their bodies, riddled with bullets, from the site of the 2:20 a.m. double homicide.“
A third man, Michael Doak Nesbitt, was left in serious condition after being shot in the chest. Nesbitt drove several miles in a red Mazda before crashing into cars parked at Big A Tires on Atlanta Highway. According to reports, the shootings followed an argument in which at some point, Lewis stepped out of the red Mazda. When the gunplay began, a security guard at Top Flight Disco got involved, firing his gun at Nesbitt as he drove away. Police believe the security guard was the one who shot Nesbitt in the chest.
Although it was unclear at the time who killed the two men, Nesbitt was the prime suspect due to the circumstances of events and his criminal past, having been charged with attempted murder of a police officer. He was eventually charged with capital murder for the double slaying. In his trial, Nesbitt’s defense attorney told the jury that he accidentally shot Lewis once after struggling with Hayes. Nesbitt was found not guilty of the two murders.
February 1994 – Money Laundering
Later that year, Richard “Squirrel” Thomas, a former math teacher at Cloverdale Junior High School and owner of Top Flight Disco, was arrested In February after being accused of placing bets for Oscar “Flower Man Andrews of Miami, Florida. The gambling scheme was used to launder drug money. Thomas was one of many arrested after a two-year federal investigation into a suspected cocaine trafficking operation involving individuals in Montgomery and Miami.
The Rose Supper Club
Within six months of its closing, Top Flight Disco reopened at the Rose Supper Club in June 1998, owned by Robert Stone and Billy Brooks. The building remained partially owned by Richard Thomas, the former owner of Top Flight Disco. By the end of August though, Stone and Brooks resigned from their responsibilities at the club. Stone said he wanted to change the image of the club, which had been plagued by reports of overcrowding and rowdy patrons. “It was just something that could not be worked out,” Stone said.
On December 3, 2012, a shooting in the Rose Supper Club ended with six people injured. Quinterrus Riley was arrested and charged with two counts of second-degree assault as he was one of two men who were involved in an altercation at the club which led up to the shooting. Timothy Cortez Robinson was also arrested and sentenced to three years in federal prison having been found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The Rose Supper Club’s liquor license was revoked in January 2013 in the interest of “public health, welfare, safety, and morals.” City Council members noted three other shootings in 2007, 2008, and 2009, which ended in fatalities. In March 2007, local rapper Eugene “Nawty Shawty” Smith was shot to death during an anniversary celebration for his group, Deuce Komradz. On New Year’s Day 2008, Bernard Mitchell was shot in the chest and robbed in the Rose Supper Club parking lot. Marquette Collins was shot to death in March 2009 and he was found slumped against the steering wheel of a car parked outside the club.
Centennial Bar & Grill
In September 2013, the Centennial Bar and Grill opened in the former Rose Supper Club having been granted a liquor license the previous month. The owner of the new business was the former manager and bartender of the Rose Supper Club, Nicole Bankhead, who worked alongside Donald Jenkins, president of the Centennial Hill Neighborhood Association, to develop a business model that the neighborhood would be comfortable with. Jenkins described the new bar and grill as an Applebee’s or Sinclair’s. It was also agreed upon with the city that the bar would be closed by midnight and not allow patrons under 25 years old to enter. Despite this change, the violence did not end.
The Murder of Doe B
On December 28, 2013, Glenn Lamar Thomas, an up-and-coming hip-hop artist better known as “Doe B,” was shot at the Centennial Bar and Grill. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. A bystander, Kimberle Briauna Johnson, was also killed, and six other patrons were injured. In response to the mass shooting, Mayor Todd Strange had the Centennial Hill Bar and Grill shut down indefinitely.
Two days later, Jason McWilliams turned himself over to MPD detectives. He would then be charged with two counts of capital murder and held without bond. The charges were later lowered to reckless murder and assault. Montgomery Police Department detectives concluded that the “shooting stemmed from an ongoing dispute between McWilliams and Doe B.” A second man, Darius Thomas, was also arrested for the murders and charged accordingly. Taboris Mock was later arrested in connection with the shooting and charged with reckless murder and three counts of assault. On January 3, 2014, a third shooting victim, Timnarius Q. “Lil Tim” Hamilton, died from his gunshot wounds.
Later in September 2014, it was discovered that a three-by-two feet section of Doe B’s grave was disturbed as someone had used a shovel to dig. The person or people responsible quit after digging a foot and a half.
On January 10, 2018, Darius Thomas was sentenced to 85 years in prison after pleading guilty to the deaths of Doe B, Kim Johnson, and Timnarius Hamilton. Taboris Mockand Jason McWilliams plead guilty to the assaults and were sentenced to 15 years in prison. The reckless murder charges were dismissed when they plead guilty. However, McWilliams was released from prison in May 2022. The families of the victims were not notified of his release and never received a response from the Department of Corrections as to why he was released early.
The former Rose Supper Club building has remained vacant ever since the shooting. The property has frequently been up for sale throughout the years with no buyers interested in said property. Remnants of the building’s past remain on its exterior, while the roof of the building has collapsed making the interior inaccessible and a total loss.