Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail
As the Old West Baltimore neighborhood matured, Pennsylvania Avenue became a mix of theaters, shops, pubs, beauty parlors, barber shops, lunch rooms, hotel and professional offices. By the 1910s, patrons shortened the name to the "Avenue," and the Royal Theatre became its biggest jewel, attracting nationally known act. Built as the Douglas in 1921, the venue was renamed the Royal in 1926, becoming part of the East Coast circuit of African American theaters that attracted greats like Nat King Col, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie.
Other clubs opened on the Avenue including the Ritz, Club Casino, the Sphinx, the Comedy Club and Gamby's. These venues created a lively street scene and placed Pennsylvania Avenue on the map as a world-renowned entertainment district. The Avenue became a 24-hour destination with shopping and professional services open during the day and nightclubs, theatres and restaurants open at night. The Avenue became African Americans' "downtown," featuring events such as the Easter Parade and the Cadillac Parade.
Old West Baltimore, too, helped nurture some of America's most important musicians. Elmer Snowden, Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday called this area home at some point in their lives. These musicians greatly influenced the national jazz scene. Other Baltimore
greats such as Eubie Blake, Chick Webb and Gary Bartz played on the Avenue, identifying Baltimore as an important jazz town.
Pennsylvania Avenue also played a role in supporting pioneering rhythm and blues groups, especially Sonny Til and the Orioles. First named the Vibranairs, Sonny Til and four others began harmonizing on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Pitcher Street around 1946. Shortly thereafter, they began playing in clubs along Pennsylvania Avenue. They recorded their first single in 1948, and by 1950 they were one of the most popular singing groups in the country. In 1995 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
(Inscriptions under the images on the right) The Royal Theatre-Opened in 1926, the 1,100 seat Royal was part of the Chitin' Circuit, a group of African Americans entertainment venue throughout the country. In a 1992 article in the Afro-American, James Wood called the Royal, "a model for the finest black entertainers, who could not showcase their exceptional talents elsewhere in Jim Crow America." The Regent Theatre-Originally built in 1916, the Regent was rebuilt in 1920 as a vaudeville-styled movie house seating up to 2,200. It was one of the largest performing venues catering to African American performers on the East Coast. Billie Holiday-Born in Philadelphia in 1915 as Elenora Fogan, jazz stylist Billie "Lady
Day" Holiday (1915-1959) was raised in Baltimore's Fells Point, Old Town and Old West Baltimore neighborhoods. She revolutionized jazz singing with her relaxed approach, rhythmic attack, and bluesy laconic phrasing. Elmer Snowden-Banjo player and band leader Elmer Snowden (1900-1973) grew up in Old West Baltimore and played at many local clubs. In 1919, he moved to Washington, D.C. and began playing with Duke Ellington. He moved his band, The Washingtonions, to New York in 1923. Though Ellington eventually took over leadership of the band, Snowden continued his band leading career, working with such musicians as Count Basie, Roy Eldridge and Chick Webb. In 1963, Snowden appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival. He toured Europe in 1967 and taught music at the University of California's Berkeley Campus. Cab-Callaway-Cabell "Cab" Callaway (1907-1994) was born in Rochester, New York and moved to Baltimore in 1918. He went to school with Thurgood Marshall, but decided to pursue music rather than law. In 1929 he moved to Harlem, where he performed at the Savoy Club and became a big hit at the Cotton Club. He popularized scatting and wrote internationally popular smash hits like "Hi-dee, hi-dee, hi-dee ho," "Jumpin Jive," "Jitterbug" and "Minnie the Moocher." In 1976 he wrote his autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me.
Reverse Side of the MarkerWelcome
Take a walk through history in storied Old West Baltimore. You'll relive the glory days of Pennsylvania Avenue and its surrounding neighborhoods. Follow the lives of inspiring people. Tour churches that served as places of empowerment and beacons of enlightenment, and gain new perspective on this African American community's role in the struggle for civil rights. Explore at your own pace following these story signs to learn about Baltimore African Americans who helped build a city and changed the face of American music, art, literature and politics.
(Inscriptions under the images on the right) 1.Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland 2.The Lillie Carroll Jackson Museum 3.Douglas Memorial Community Church 4.Elks Lodge 5.Morriah Keyhole Houses 6.Booker T. Washington Middle School 7.Bethel AME Church 8.Union Baptist Church 9.Sharp Street Methodist Church 10.Henry Highland Garnet School/PS 103 11.The Royal Theatre Marquee Monument 12.Billie Holliday Plaza 13.Macedonia Baptist Church 14.The Comedy Club 15.Trinity Baptist Church 16.YMCA 17.Ideal Savings and Loan 18.Baltimore Masjid 19.Thurgood Marshall's Childhood Home 20.Romare Bearden Mural.
(Inscriptions under the images) *Listen, Can you feel it pulsating down
the Street of Royalty? *It's bee-bop, jazz, comedy—and of course—the blues. *All the greats were here. Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Eubie Blake and more! *Learn about African American politicians and lawyers like William Ashbie Hawkins and George McMechan who fought against on ordinance segregating whites and blacks block by block. *Visit churches that nurtured the soul, and also fed, clothed and housed the poor. *Follow Thurgood Marshall from Henry Highland Garnet School/PS 103, to winning landmark Supreme Court cases, to becoming a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. *Learn how Old West Baltimore residents and church leaders played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement and in the Buy Where You Can Work jobs campaign. *And walk in the creative footsteps of writer Zora Neale Hurston, artist Romare Breaden and actors at the Arena Players.