Filed Under Recreation

Pla-Mor Roller Rink

For a generation in the 1940s-60s, Pla-Mor Roller Rink provided a much-needed recreational venue for all ages on the eastern end of the Cedar-Central (Fairfax) neighborhood and for a time was the only Black-owned skating rink in Cleveland. More than a place to skate, it also attracted top-billed musical acts.

On land now owned by Case Western Reserve University, Pla-Mor's location on Cedar Avenue at East 107th Street was a converted bus garage named the Coliseum, which opened in 1940. Built by the same syndicate that operated the Arena on Euclid Avenue, this multipurpose venue was intended for conventions, concerts, boxing shows, basketball games, and rollerskating. In 1942, Elmer "Al" Collins took over the "dark cavern," painted its interior, and opened the well-lighted Pla-Mor Roller Rink. He hired a full-time skating instructor and an organist to provide music for skaters. Not only did Collins enable many youths to compete in the National Roller Rink Operators Association that he founded, he also intervened in the fight against juvenile delinquency in Cedar-Central. In 1948 he even persuaded a "roving gang" that harassed the neighborhood to reconstitute as the Royal Dutchmen, a supervised social and athletic club that pledged to model constructive play for younger adolescents.

Pla-Mor hosted an array of events. Following World War II, the Negro Business Alliance of Cleveland sponsored the "Exhibit of Progress" several years in a row at the facility, drawing as many as 70,000 people to view displays and demonstrations of successful black enterprises, and in the latter half of the 1950s the Call & Post newspaper held its annual Home and Food Show there. The Future Outlook League, a civil rights organization founded in the 1930s, along with Black social organizations such as Coronet, the Ghana Club, and Les Charmantes, held lavish cabaret parties at Pla-Mor in the 1950s. Along with exhibitions and parties, the Pla-Mor ballroom attracted big-name music acts in the 1950s-60s, including Wynonie Harris, Dinah Washington, Frankie Lymon, the Marvelettes, and even B. B. King. In the late 1950s, DJs like WJMO's Ken Hawkins also spun records for dance nights.

But the Pla-Mor was best known for skating, which ranged from children's lessons to teen nights to skating shows such as those by the Roller Vanities. Racial discrimination contributed to Pla-Mor's popularity in the Black community. Although forbidden by law, segregation was common in Cleveland at mid century. From time to time, Blacks reported difficulties at Skateland, another popular roller rink at Euclid Avenue and East 90th Street. These problems seem to have escalated in the 1950s, when the adjacent Hough neighborhood transformed from 4 to 74 percent African American in only a decade. As late as 1955, after an interracial group of youth from Boys Town, Nebraska, went to Pla-Mor after exclusion from an undisclosed East Side rink, a spokesman at Skateland denied knowledge of the incident but openly admitted that the rink tried to deny African American entry except to private parties held by church or school groups. Although Skateland more openly hosted black events by the late 1950s, the Pla-Mor remained essential in the Black community.

In 1965 the Pla-Mor underwent renovation, and took the new name University Party Center. Count Basie's orchestra belted out jazz tunes at the Go-Go Girls Big Cabaret Party in June of the following year. It turned out to be the last of the storied shows at the place many still called the Pla-Mor. Just over a month later, the Hough Uprising broke out on Cleveland's East Side. The University Party Center went up in flames and, according to the Call & Post, was reduced to "twisted lengths of burned steel." Amid the chaos, the Townes family, who lived across the street, attempted to flee the danger in their 1957 Ford. When they drove through a nearby National Guard roadblock, police fired into their windshield, striking 16-year-old Diana Townes, who lost an eye. Four months later, the family's home also burned to the ground.

Today the mention of the Pla-Mor evokes bittersweet remembrances--both happy recollections of good times spent skating or dancing and sorrow for the roller rink's tragic end. Fondness for the good times led a handful of investors to reopen the former Euclid Rollerdrome as the new Pla-Mor in 2009 at 22466 Shore Center Drive in suburban Euclid, promising to keep the memory of its namesake alive.

Audio

You Just Knew... Russell J. Toppin Sr. remembers how de facto segregation shaped recreational options for African Americans. Whites skated at Skateland while blacks skated at Pla-Mor Roller Rink. He recalls his first visit to Skateland after integration and his surprise that whites also could skate well. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Thursday Night Organ Music at the Pla-Mor Eleanor Cannaday reminisces about going to Pla-Mor Roller Rink in the 1960s on Thursday nights with friends to enjoy organ music. She also mentions the destruction of Pla-Mor in 1966 during the Hough Riots. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Pla-Mor Label, ca. 1940s
Rollerskating rinks often issued decals, which are now very collectible. Pla-Mor was located on Cedar Avenue from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s. Source: Jordan Smith
Skateland Label, ca. 1940s Skateland, once located at 9001 Euclid Avenue, is now the site of a Cleveland Clinic parking garage. From its red, white, blue colors, stars-and-stripes design, and Uncle Sam's hat to its motto "to build morale, stamina, physical fitness," this Skateland decal exudes American patriotism. The top hat's statement "For the Duration" makes clear that this decal was issued during World War II. Source: Jordan Smith
Skating Couples The Pla-Mor was the only roller rink in Cleveland that openly served African Americans in the middle years of the twentieth century. Source: Call & Post Date: November 29, 1947
Cabaret Party For $2 at the door, patrons danced the night away to the hits of several popular Motown artists at one of the many cabaret parties held at the Pla-Mor. Source: Call & Post Date: January 27, 1962
University Party Center Burning, 1966 In this photo in the Call & Post, dated July 30, 1966, firefighters battle the blazes set during the convulsive Hough Uprising. The Pla-Mor, which had recently undergone renovations, including a refinished rink floor, was known as University Party Center. This recreation hub of the eastern end of the Cedar-Central neighborhood was a total loss. Source: Call & Post Date: July 30, 1966
University Party Center Ruins Following the fire that consumed the onetime Pla-Mor during the Hough Uprising, nothing remained but twisted steel and charred ruins. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1966

Location

10626 Cedar Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106

Metadata

J. Mark Souther and Timothy Klypchak, “Pla-Mor Roller Rink,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 17, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/621.