Friends of the Institute, P.H.O.E.B.E. (People Helping Others Excel by Example), also known by its primary program, The Uzuri Project, is a Hot Springs, Arkansas based non-profit organization dedicated to documenting the city’s African American history and culture.
Since 1997 the organization has amassed a collection of objects, photographs, and documents associated with Hot Springs’ African American history. P.H.O.E.B.E. was also instrumental in having the Pleasant Street Historic district, Hot Springs’ historic black neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the largest African American historic district in the state.
Of late, P.H.O.E.B.E, led by Cheryl Batts (founder), and Woodie Davis (board member), has focused attention on preserving and restoring the John L. Webb house. The home, located at 403 Pleasant Street, is a contributing structure and the centerpiece of the Pleasant Street Historic District. Webb purchased the home from Edwin Hogaboom in the early 1920s. Originally the Queen Anne style structure was white with a wood frame, however after purchasing the property, Webb added a garage (since demolished), a red brick veneer, and a green tiled roof.
Webb, a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute, and a carpenter by trade, figured prominently in Hot Springs’ African American community life from 1918 when he arrived from Mississippi to relocate the headquarters of the Woodmen of the Union (WOU), an African American fraternal organization where he served as the Supreme Custodian of the Supreme Lodge, until his death in 1946.
In addition to the home at 403 Pleasant Street, other physical reminders of Webb’s work and community involvement remain throughout the Pleasant Street Historic district. The WOU building on Malvern Avenue which Webb oversaw the construction of, once housed a 100 bed hospital, a nurse training school, a 75 room bath hotel, a printing press, a bank, professional and executive offices, and a 2500 seat auditorium that featured major acts of that period such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie. The WOU building was the center of African American life from the time the doors opened in 1923 into the late 1940s. Thanks to restoration efforts of P.H.O.E.B.E. and others, the building now houses Home Harbor, an unassisted living quarters for senior adults. The Webbs’ legacy continues to positively impact the community through the Emma Elease Webb Community Center, a building at 127 Pleasant Street that John Webb and his wife Carrie purchased and donated to the community in 1946 in honor of their daughter, Emma Elease Webb, who died in 1943.
“The house should be saved and restored so that educators, humanities scholars, visitors and others can see the architectural design and the eclectic personal touches Mr. Webb added to the property. The John Lee Webb House stands to be a catalyst for economic and community development in a way that can’t be found anywhere else,” says Batts.
The Save the John Webb House project has widespread support ranging from neighborhood residents and the religious community to the superintendent of the Hot Springs School District. With the help of project architect–Kwendeche (pictured below), Batts, Davis, and community partners plan to completely restore the John L. Webb House in three phases. Phase I, which is currently underway, includes protecting the home by repairing the roof and weatherizing the perimeter brick, windows, and door openings. Phase II includes restoring the interior, incorporating design elements from the home’s period of significance. In phase III the demolished garage will be rebuilt. Once complete the home will serve as a museum and as P.H.O.E.B.E.’s headquarters.
The Institute on Race and Ethnicity applauds P.H.O.E.B.E.’s efforts to preserve and highlight African American history and culture in their community.
For more information on the John L. Webb house preservation project visit Save The John Lee Webb House Facebook page.
Smith, Sandra Taylor “Pleasant Street Historic District Hot Springs Arkansas Design Guidelines: A Guide to Rehabilitation and New Construction” City of Hot Springs Arkansas, 2006.