In 1954, a group of determined women combined their efforts to create an Art Center for the City of Pensacola. In the early 1950's, the City had few cultural activities to offer its citizens, and no art classes were offered at the schools. Members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) wanted a place in which to exhibit traveling shows, offer art classes for both children and adults, provide meeting space for members of the community as well as a forum for lectures, films and other cultural presentations. With the leadership of Evelyn Habel, who was appointed chairperson of the AAUW art studies group, the women brought their case before the City Council, and eventually brought an Art Center to Pensacola.
When the City decided to replace the Old City Jail, the Pensacola Art Association made a bid for the building. The Spanish Revival structure of the Pensacola Museum of Art was originally conceived through the need for adequate jail facilities during turn-of-the-century emergence of Pensacola as a vital city in the modern period, only small, makeshift facilities existed to detain the city's unprincipled individuals.
The Jail was already fireproof, secure and centrally located in Pensacola's Historic Downtown District. When the City allowed the group to lease the old jail for $1 per year, the Association's Board members pulled together to turn the jail cells into exhibition spaces. Initially, the City leased the building to the Association, then, in 1955 the Association purchased the building and in 1982 the Arts Center became the Pensacola Museum of Art.