Grant aims to restore Black history at Palmer Pharmacy in Lexington's East End neighborhood

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Posted at 6:12 PM, Aug 02, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — With the help of a grant, the Palmer Pharmacy in Lexington's East End neighborhood is inching closer to being restored so it can bring community-benefitting services and programs to the area.

It is one of 40 sites across the country that has received a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Brittany Sams, with the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, led the grant writing process. After applying two previous times for the grant, she said it was thrilling to learn that the third time was a charm and that they had been awarded $50,000.

"We immediately just started jumping up and down screaming so yes we were very excited," Sams said.

Sams said the International Style of the building makes it unique. But what makes it truly special is the man who built it: Dr. Zirl Palmer.

"My reason for coming here [Lexington] was they had roughly nine black physicians and four dentists but no black pharmacists," Zirl said in an audio recording courtesy of the University of Kentucky's Louis B. Nunn Center for Oral History. "Segregation really prevailed then and I thought that if I came to an area where they had that many physicians as well as dentists that I couldn't miss as far as making a success in the drug business."

The World War II veteran and civil rights pioneer was the first African American to own a Rexall pharmacy in the nation. He was also the first African American trustee at the University of Kentucky.

"He opened up his pharmacy with the spirit of serving the community," Sams said. "He had his ice cream and lunch parlor on the bottom floor with the pharmacy shop, and then, of course, the doctors' offices on the second floor. We just really want to see it serving the community like he wanted it to again."

The building, abandoned in 2017, is owned by the city. It's working with the Blue Grass Trust to determine how to move forward on the project. The most recent grant, coupled with the $350,000 already allocated to the project, will be used to remodel the building.

The remaining funds to do a total renovation will likely come from fundraising and the organization or entity that eventually takes ownership of the space.

To learn more about the history of the building and Dr. Zirl Palmer, including the time his family was attacked by a member of the Ku Klux Klan, read here.

You can also watch the brief documentary below: