Dr. William Monroe Wells was a prominent African-American physician in Orlando during the first half of the 20th century. One of Orlando’s first Black doctors, Dr. Wells came to Orlando in 1917. In 1921 he built a hotel for African-Americans barred from Florida’s segregated hotels. Soon afterwards, he built South Street Casino, an entertainment venue he built to host some of the most famous African American performers of the time.
William Monroe Wells, who was born in Ft. Gaines, Georgia in 1889, arrived in Orlando in 1917 after completing his medical training at Meharry Medical College. During part of WWII, Dr. William Monroe Wells was the only African American physician in Orlando. During segregation, white physicians did not treat African American patients. African American doctors, therefore, earned their money from people of their own race. He worked very hard to serve the growing African American population in the City Beautiful. With the help of his assistant, Mrs. Josie Belle Jackson, Dr. Wells is known to have delivered over 5.000 babies in Orlando. He treated patients who suffered from pneumonia, influenza, scarlet fever and other serious illnesses before drugs like penicillin were introduced. Many of Dr. Wells’ patients were extremely poor. He treated their illnesses though they many times could not afford to pay his fee. This allowed them to speak forcefully against poor conditions that existed in the African American community without fear of losing their livelihood.
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The South Street Casino
Next door to the Wells’ Built was once the South Street Casino, a performance hall, which featured musicians that traveled the ‘Chitlin Circuit’ performing for audiences all over the country. In 1924, Dr. William Monroe Wells received a building permit to build the South Street Casino. There was rarely organized recreation for young African Americans in Orlando, Florida during this time.
The Casino was a place for recreation for African Americans of all ages. Inside the Casino were a basketball court and a skating rink for young adults, but come 8:00pm they had to leave the Casino so the adults may come in for their night’s entertainment. African Americans came from Sanford, Eatonville and surrounding areas to Orlando to shop and take in performances of popular musicians at the South Street Casino.
511 W. South Street
Orlando, FL 32805
After the performances at the casino, the artists checked in at the historic Wells’ Built Hotel. In its heyday, the Wells’ Built provided lodging for clientele such as Pegleg Bates, Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Campenella, Thurgood Marshall, and Jackie Robinson. The entertainers and athletes who frequented this establishment made it one of the most popular venues for African Americans in the South.
In the 1980’s, a fire erupted through the South Street Casino. The damage was severe and could not be repaired. The fire led to the final demolition of the South Street Casino in 1987.