Filed Under Entertainment

Cleveland's Second Downtown

East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue

In the early 1800s the present-day intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street (then Doan Street) was known as Doan's Corners. Named after Nathaniel Doan, who owned a tavern, a hotel, and other businesses there, Doan's Corners was a stagecoach stop on the road between Cleveland and Buffalo, New York. Until the turn of the twentieth century, Doan's Corners lay in the midst of farmlands and country estates just east of "Millionaires' Row." Within a generation, however, many Clevelanders came to view the area around East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue as Cleveland's second downtown. The grand Alhambra Theater opened at 10403 Euclid Avenue in the early 1900s, and other entertainment venues followed in its wake. The area became a premier destination for arts and entertainment, with music clubs, restaurants, theaters, and retail shopping. These catered to a population that was increasingly moving eastward into neighborhoods like Hough, Glenville, and Wade Park. Streetcars also brought East Side suburbanites to the 105th Street area.

In the 1950s, nearby Hough and Glenville began to transform from majority-white to majority-black neighborhoods. The Euclid-East 105th area continued to attract a mostly suburban white clientele to its many entertainment venues.  Along with the Alhambra, there were a number of theaters. The Circle Theater hosted a number of musicians and Keith's 105th Street Theater showed motion pictures. The Circle Theater brought in big-time acts like Roy Acuff and his Grand Ole Opry.  Keith's 105th Street Theater and the Circle Theater helped give rise to artists and producers.  At midcentury the Euclid-East 105th area also began to attract a growing African American clientele. The change was not without problems. In the early 1950s a series of bombings rocked the Towne Casino, a music club that attracted interracial patronage. The venue finally closed amid fears of attacks possibly calculated to stave off integration.  By the 1960s, nearby University Circle institutional leaders and municipal officials eyed the district for urban renewal, envisioning an extension of their collective campus to replace this dense urban core.

After the Hough uprising and Glenville shootout in the later 1960s, white flight and disinvestment threatened to spell the end of the East 105th Street entertainment district. Not long after the riots, however, African American real estate developer Winston E. Willis stepped in and purchased many of the commercial properties around East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue, opening a number of adult-oriented businesses. However, Willis also opened a number of mainstream ventures, including the Scrumpy Dump Cinema and Winston's Place Fine Dining. He managed the block of businesses through his University Circle Properties Development Inc., whose UCPD signage mimicked that of the University Circle Police Department. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Willis was locked in legal battles with the city.  His use of the old Keith's 105th Theater as a billboard to rail against the nearby Cleveland Clinic's expansionist planning as an affront to African Americans surely added to the resolve of his opponents. Through a number of city investigations, Willis was imprisoned and his property confiscated. In the early 1980s, nearly all of Willis's properties  were demolished to make way for the William O. Walker Center, sounding the death knell for the anchor of Cleveland's "Gold Coast."

Audio

The Gold Coast Larry Rivers, lifelong Glenville resident, recalls abundant entertainment available on East 105th Street Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
An Entertainment Destination Pat Holland recalls the folk and jazz clubs that lined East 105th Street during the 1960s and '70s Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Area At Its Peak Ted Sande, Executive Director of the Western Reserve Historical Society describes East 105th during the first half of the twentieth century Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
A Second Downtown Glenville resident Virgil Brown recalls the heyday of entertainment at East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Rise and Decline of East 105th Historian John Grabowski describes the rise and decline of the East 105th Street entertainment district Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Racially Integrated Audiences Larry Rivers discusses how East 105th Street entertainers were able to bring together fans of all races Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Snow Storm Kathleen Shamp remembers visiting East 105th and Euclid during the snow storm of 1950. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection Creator: Kathleen Shamp

Images

Doan's Corners Postcard View, ca. 1905 The corner of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue was known as Doan's Corners during its initial years after early settler Nathaniel Doan. Doan Street became East 105th Street in 1906 when the city of Cleveland adopted numbered street names. Source: Cleveland State Library. Special Collections. Cleveland Memory Project
Doan's Corners, Looking East, ca. 1910 Streetcar tracks occupied the center of Euclid Avenue in the early twentieth century. The Doan's Corners area had grown tremendously from the days of Nathaniel Doan, boasting several fine hotels and apartment hotels, as well as theaters, restaurants, and various novelties during the great vaudeville age. Source: Library of Congress
Euclid-East 105th Area, 1946 This aerial view faces west, with the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in the foreground. Streetcar lines ran directly from the Heights to the Euclid-East 105th area, making the district a popular destination for East Side suburban residents. Often called Cleveland's second downtown, the center offered many of the same opportunities as downtown on a smaller scale before the advent of suburban shopping malls. Source: Cleveland State Library. Special Collections. Cleveland Memory Project Date: 1946
Euclid-East 105th Area, 1970 This photo shows a number of businesses either owned by or leased from Winston Willis. In the background, Keith's 105th Theater is visible. By 1970 it housed an adult theater. Other businesses in that block included a thrift store, Bosa Nova Cocktail Lounge, Little Floyd's Riviera Lounge, Down Beat Swings nightclub, and Pussycat CineX, Psychedelic Shack restaurant, and Adult Cinema and Bookstore, among others. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection Date: 1970
Winston Willis's Block, 1970 Detroit-born black entrepreneur Winston Willis owned nearly the entire south side of Euclid Avenue between East 105th and East 107th streets in the 1970s. As this photograph suggests, after the Hough and Glenville riots of the late 1960s, white businessmen and customers forsook the Euclid-East 105th area, leaving a void quickly filled by Willis and a largely African American clientele. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection Date: 1970
University Circle Building, 1968 Home to doctors,' dentists,' and attorneys' offices on the second floor into the 1950s-60s, the University Circle Building, shown here in the late 1960s, would soon become the headquarters for Winston Willis's University Circle Properties Development Inc. After the 105th-Euclid Association, a white-dominated booster organization, failed to revitalize the city's "second downtown," suburbanites largely abandoned the area. Note the Joint Apprenticeship Program sign, which also calls attention to a job-training initiative spearheaded by the Workers Defense League (a socialist labor rights organization) and A. Philip Randolph Educational Fund, which was part of the civil rights leader's larger campaign to unite civil rights and labor activism following passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Source: Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection Date: 1968
Last Days, 1976 By 1976, the north side of the 10400 block of Euclid Avenue was a shell of its former self. In this color slide view, the Alhambra Theater's marquee is empty, its doors boarded up. Next door, Ralph's Nobby Clothes advertises its "Last Days," with 70% off and "No Reasonable Offer Refused." Source: Cleveland State University. Special Collections. Cleveland Memory Project Date: 1976
Last Gasp of the Alhambra, 1976 The derelict Alhambra Theater, once a favored haunt of Bob Hope, could not survive the forces of suburbanization and urban disinvestment. If the Euclid-East 105th area called to mind the tawdriness of New York's Times Square in the 1970s, Cleveland's East Side could not leverage anything approximating the restoration of Times Square's theater district--or Cleveland's Playhouse Square, whose downtown location and grander theaters invited the kind of reinvestment that the riot-stricken eastern Hough area failed to match. The Alhambra met the wrecking ball in 1976, soon after this slide was made. The site is now home to the Ronald McDonald House. Source: Cleveland State University. Special Collections. Cleveland Memory Project Date: 1976
W. O. Walker Center Plan, ca. 1980s After Winston Willis was driven from the south side of the 10500-10700 block of Euclid Avenue, a state-funded urban renewal project replaced the last vestige of Cleveland's second downtown. Named for William O. Walker, the longtime editor of Cleveland's black weekly newspaper The Call and Post, the W. O. Walker Center was a project of the Industrial Commission of Ohio. Built to house and treat injured workers, today it houses the Cleveland Clinic's physical therapy department. When the design was unveiled in 1982, it reflected a subtle response to fears of area crime. Its architect, according to an interview with the Plain Dealer, did not want "fences and walls" and opted instead to set the building back far from the street with extensive landscaping to create a buffer of reassurance, calling to mind years of debates over University Circle institutions' relationship with surrounding, largely African American neighborhoods. Source: Cleveland State University. Special Collections. Cleveland Memory Project

Location

Metadata

Adonees Sarrouh and J. Mark Souther, “Cleveland's Second Downtown,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/49.