The Douglas Theater, Harlem, 1920

January 9, 2014

On 143rd Street and Lenox Avenue sat the Douglas Theater, depending on which of my sources is correct, either 600 or 2200 seats (which in 1935 expanded to 2300, which could indicate that an orchestra pit was covered over to add more seating).

Sources lists the larger capacity because the smaller capacity source lists the theater as active until 1922. The picture playing when this photo was taken is a Fox picture, directed by the great Raoul Walsh, from 1927. Around the corner, like the sign says, is the entrance to the Cotton Club. Upstairs from this theatre, was a restaurant/dance hall known as the Lenox Club (aka the Breakfast Club) which featured performances by, among others, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

In a space once used as a club by the legendary African American boxer Jack Johnson, The Cotton Club opened in 1923 after gangster bootlegger hoodlum Owney Madden muscled his way in and forced Johnson’s Club DeLuxe out. Although the club launched the careers of too numerous to mention here African American entertainers, the Cotton Club originally had a “Whites Only” policy. Duke Ellington was the club’s orchestra leader from 1927 to 1931, replacing the great Fletcher Henderson (if it weren’t for him, Benny Goodman would never have become the “King of Swing”). During Ellington’s tenure, the racist policy was relaxed. After Ellington left, Cab Calloway took over as the orchestra leader.

Eventually the club moved south, to 47th street in a building just north of Duffy Square (were the TKTS booth is located). The Cotton Club closed in 1940 and then Lou Walters Latin Quarter moved in.

The building was demolished for housing in 1958.


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