Filed Under Entertainment

Majestic Hotel

Opened in 1907 as a five-story, 250-room residential hotel known as the Majestic Apartments, the Majestic Hotel emerged after the Great Migration as Cleveland's primary African American hotel, a role it played until integration eased the need for hotels catering primarily to a black clientele. From the mid-1920s to mid-1940s it was owned by Josef Weiss, who was Jewish of Hungarian descent, and managed by an African American man named Ted Whitbeck. The imposing brick structure on the corner of East 55th Street and Central Avenue in the heart of the city's Cedar-Central neighborhood provided African Americans with a quality place to stay on a visit or to call home. Although the Majestic was listed as apartments in the city directory from 1907 to 1929, its primary function became that of a hotel, and it was the largest Cleveland hostelry listed perennially in the Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide for Black motorists during the Jim Crow era. Not only did the Majestic provide a place for Blacks to stay, it gave them a place to eat, relax, and enjoy musical entertainment free from discrimination.

As early as 1931 the Majestic Hotel had a jazz club originally named the Furnace Room. There, one would find the owners and operators of other local clubs along with musicians who had finished their night's work at other establishments. Patrons enjoyed entertainment from various crooners, dancers and even an accordion player while enjoying the house specialty of barbecue and spare ribs. In 1934 "Mammy" Louise Brooks served New Orleans Creole fare in the Majestic Grill, which also operated inside the Majestic Hotel until it changed hands in 1936 and became Sadie's.

In 1934 the Furnace Room changed its name to the Heat Wave. Once the Heat Wave closed three years later, the spot within the hotel it vacated did not stay empty for long. By the end of September 1938 a new hot spot emerged at the location. Elmer Waxman's Ubangi Club enjoyed a very lively first week of existence according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. After only a short run, the Ubangi Club joined the ranks of the Furnace Room and the Heat Wave in closing its doors for good. However, the next club to emerge from the location within the Majestic would enjoy more fame than any of its predecessors. The new club emerged near the end of World War II after Weiss sold the hotel to Black investors led by former Sohio gasoline station franchisee Alonzo G. Wright. 

While the Majestic may have been a Black hotel located in a largely African American section of Cleveland, the audiences drawn to the hotel's Rose Room Cocktail Lounge in the 1950s were anything but segregated. Indeed, the Majestic and the Log Cabin across the street, were fixtures in the "Black and Tan" scene in Cleveland's version of Harlem. The largest attractions for jazz lovers, according to jazz historian Joe Mosbrook, were "Blue Monday" parties, which featured pianist Duke Jenkins and his band, along with many other jazzmen. These jam sessions made the Rose Room a preeminent venue through the 1950s.

Although Wright was committed to running a thoroughly modern and fashionable hotel and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into updates in the mid-1940s and again in the late 1950s, like countless Black-owned hotels across the nation, the Majestic lost its reason for being as Jim Crow practices receded. When it reported on May 27, 1967, on the impending demolition of the Majestic to build the Goodwill Industries Rehabilitation Center, the Call and Post, Cleveland's leading Black newspaper, took a bittersweet tone. Observing that the new center would be "a tremendous community development in a slum area," it also concluded, "With the Majestic goes the sounds of music, the voices of the great, and a bright era of Negro community life."

Audio

Dispatching Taxicabs from the Majestic Russell J. Toppin Sr. describes how his grandfather, who owned Majestic Cab Co., offered taxi service to African Americans in the 1920s-30s, a time when mainstream companies refused their business. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Entertainment at the Majestic Derwood Tatum recalls how the Majestic Hotel had its own in-house entertainers in its Rose Room. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Motown Artists Stayed at the Majestic R&B musician George Hendricks describes how Motown revues gradually undercut smaller clubs. In the early days of revues, performers traveled by bus and stayed at cheap hotels like the Majestic Hotel, which were not only affordable but also the only places African Americans were welcome. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Majestic Hotel Postcard, 1930s "America's Finest Colored Hostelry: 250 rooms, 19 minutes to theatre and business district. Excellent service plus moderate rates." -card verso. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Majestic Accommodations, 1930s "Hotel Majestic Central Ave. at East 55th St. Cleveland, Ohio. Near all amusements-activities-shopping-radio in every room." -card verso. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Majestic Hotel, 1950s "Hotel Majestic, located on the N.E. corner of the intersection of East 55 Street and Central Avenue, is the largest Negro owned and operated hotel in the city. It is the stopping place for many political, theatrical and sport celebrities. It features the modern Rose Room Cocktail Lounge, Majestic Bar and Restaurant." -card verso. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Hotel Owner Alonzo Wright Alonzo Wright, shown here with his prize-winning cow, was one of Cleveland's most prominent Black businessmen and owned numerous businesses within the city, including nearly a dozen Sohio gas and service stations and the Majestic Hotel. He also owned the Ritzwood Hotel (located at East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue), which was lost in a devastating blaze in 1959. Wright was also among the first African Americans to own a home in a Cleveland suburb. A racially motivated bombing of his Cleveland Heights home in 1930 did not intimidate Wright, who remained there until moving in 1947 to a farm in western Geauga County, well beyond the racial insecurities of Cleveland's status-conscious suburbs. Source: Cleveland Memory, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1961
Negro Travelers' Green Book, 1956 The Majestic Hotel was one of only five hotels in Cleveland listed in the 1956 Negro Travelers' Green Book, previously titled the Negro Motorist Green Book, which was designed to help African Americans find accommodations that would welcome their business during the Jim Crow era. Two "tourist homes," the YMCA, and three restaurants were also listed in Cleveland. With the exception of Mrs. Fannie Gilmer Tourist Home in Glenville, all other accommodations, including the Majestic, were located in the Cedar-Central neighborhood.  Source: Courtesy of USC South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC Date: 1956

Location

2291 E 55th St, Cleveland, OH 44103 | Demolished

Metadata

Shawn Morris, “Majestic Hotel,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 25, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/636.