Owner of Shuttered Hip-Hop Club, The Fontaine Bleau, Details Allegations of Racial Discrimination by Portland City Hall and OLCC

Rodney DeWalt is alleging racial discrimination, listing other venues with “predominantly white clientele” that remain licensed after shootings.

The owner of shuttered Northeast Portland hip-hop club The Fontaine Bleau has filed new allegations in his lawsuit against the city of Portland and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which suspended the club's license in November 2013 after a patron was shot and killed outside.

Rodney DeWalt filed the suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court in May 2014, saying the two governments were engaged in "a campaign intended to thwart black-owned clubs or clubs that played hip-hop."

DeWalt is alleging racial discrimination and a violation of his first amendment right to play hip hop music.

In an amended complaint filed Nov. 2, DeWalt details that claim, listing other venues with "predominantly white clientele" that remain licensed after shootings.

DeWalt's complaint also alleges city livability programs manager Theresa Marchetti told him that patrons wouldn't be allowed to line up outside the Fontaine Bleau "because the patrons looked lewd, vulgar and filthy."

Marchetti did not respond to WW's calls seeking comment.

Mayor Charlie Hales' office declined to comment on pending litigation.

The complaint points to the following examples of bars with "predominantly white clientele" receiving different treatment:

  • The New Copper Penny is a nightclub that caters to a predominately white clientele. It has a history of trouble, including 136 calls to police in 2 years. This includes a history of fatal shootings going back to 1990. In February of 2012 two men were shot in the New Copper Penny parking lot. In 2014, a man was shot when another man shot into a crowd of people at the club. The New Copper Penny’s OLCC license was not suspended as a result of this history.
  • The Pallas Club is another club in Southeast Portland that caters to a predominately white clientele. It has a history of trouble and police involvement, including a fatal shooting outside the club that occurred in October of 2015. The Pallas Club’s OLCC license was not suspended as a result of this history.
  • The Hour Glass Pub is a Northeast Portland Pub in the Montavilla neighborhood. It caters to a predominately white clientele. In early October of this year two people were shot outside the bar, one of whom died. The Hour Glass’s OLCC license was not suspended as a result of this history.
  • The Mystic Club is a Southeast Portland Strip Club that serves a predominately white clientele. In July of 2012 Cleveland Nelson shot Robert Ford, Jr. outside the club as retaliation for testifying against two fellow Bloods gang members. Again, in early 2014, a white man entered the club with a revolver, shot a bouncer, and was fatally shot by another bouncer as he tried to leave the club. The Mystic Club’s OLCC license was not suspended as a result of this history.

The complaint also provides an extensive list of what it describes as "black clubs" that have been shuttered throughout the years:

  • In the 1920s, the Golden West Hotel was the only business in Portland catering to black people and owned by a black man. Located at Northwest Third and Davis, it contained a hotel, a restaurant, a barber shop, and a soda fountain. It functioned as a cultural hub for black Portlanders, and often hosted jazz performances. The City tried to shut the Golden West Hotel down several times, citing noise complaints, liquor violations, and prostitution. City officials eventually got their wish in 1931, when the owner closed the business and opened a new hotel in in the new black district of Albina.
  • The Cleo-Lillian Social Club opened in the mid-1950s on North Williams Avenue, in the Albina neighborhood. It operated as a private social club owned and frequented by its largely black members. Duke Ellington once performed at the club. As more white people began moving to Albina in the 1990s, the City and OLCC began pressuring the club with noise and liquor license complaints, and eventually succeeding in shutting the club down in 2001.
  • In 2004, La Von Van, a black man, bought LV’s Sports Bar Restaurant and Lounge, several blocks north of the former site of the Cleo-Lillian Social Club. The business was a gathering spot for the local black community, even as the neighborhood around it became increasingly white. When Mr. Van first bought the business, the City refused to assist in his complaints of criminal activity in the neighborhood. However, in 2008, the City and OLCC turned their regulatory attention on the club. In 2012, the OLCC moved to suspend the bar’s liquor license twice, citing a history of violations generated through inordinate regulatory attention. When he received the second notice of proposed suspension on October 31, 2012, Mr. Van closed the bar, citing the financial burden imposed by the OLCC. LV’s Sports Bar Restaurant and Lounge was the last black owned bar in the Albina neighborhood. It was demolished shortly after closing to make room for a luxury apartment building.
  • In 2008, the Crown Room opened in Portland’s Chinatown neighborhood, two blocks from where the Golden West Hotel once did business. The club presented a mix of music, including a hip-hop night every Saturday night. The hip-hop nights drew a mixed crowd with a plurality of young black people. The Crown Room received an inordinate amount of regulatory attention from the PPB, Neighborhood Involvement, the Fire Bureau, and OLCC under the direction of Steven Marks. Ultimately, a series of minor liquor violations led to a prolonged suspension, and the club was forced to close. The former owner of the Crown Room, a white man, continues to operate other nightclubs in the downtown vicinity profitably and without undue regulatory interference. None of those clubs, however, host hip-hop nights or cater to young black people.
  • In March 2010, Beauty Bar, a small national chain of successful nightclubs, opened in downtown Portland. The venue hired a nationally recognized promoter named Chase Freeman, a black man, to host weekly dance nights on Saturday nights. Mr. Freeman followed the same successful formula he had used in cities such as New York and Atlanta to create a mix of dance music events featuring local and national DJs focused around hip-hop music. The formula was a success in Portland as well, drawing a mixed crowd with a plurality of young black people. However, the PPB and Fire Bureau began focusing on the club as it became successful. Despite the absence of noise complaints or incidents of violence at the club, Portland officials again began focusing inordinate regulatory attention on it. The Fire Bureau cited the club twice for capacity violations and pressured the club to fire the promoter. The owners did so in late March 2012 and closed the club soon after.
  • In March 2011, Samuel Thompson, a young, Portland black man, opened Seeznin’s Bar & Lounge on 82nd Avenue in Portland. The bar catered to young black people. PPB and the OLCC immediately focused an inordinate amount of attention on the bar. In June 2011, a man was shot and killed in the parking lot across the street from the bar. The OLCC and PPB blamed the bar for the homicide. OLCC director Marks immediately issued excessive and crippling restrictions on Mr. Thompson’s liquor license. Those restrictions made it impossible for Mr. Thompson to continue to operate the business profitably and he was forced to close. In 2011, there were four homicides on or very near 82nd Avenue. Seeznin’s was the only establishment closed as a result.

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