Majestic Hotel

Beginning in 1907, the Majestic Hotel served as Cleveland's primary African American hotel, a role it played until integration eased the need for hotels catering primarily to a black clientele. Before it was widely known as the Majestic Hotel, the imposing structure on the corner of East 55th Street and Central Avenue was simply referred to as "the apartments" by many black residents residing in Cleveland. Located in the heart of the city's Cedar-Central neighborhood, it 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 was that of a hotel, and it was the largest Cleveland hostelry listed perennially in the 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 room 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. The southern-style fare was supplied by Mammy Louise's Barbeque Café, which also operated within the Majestic Hotel beginning in March 1933.

By 1935, the Furnace Room and Mammy Louise's Café were failing to garner the attention in the local press that they once enjoyed. The Furnace Room changed its name to the Heat Wave. Once the Heat Wave closed for good a short time 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. By the early 1950s, 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.

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. However, like countless black-owned hotels across the nation, the Majestic lost its reason for being upon the demise of Jim Crow. 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."

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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.
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Entertainment at the Majestic
Derwood Tatum recalls how the Majestic Hotel had its own in-house entertainers in its Rose Room.
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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...
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