The early 20th Century gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance, rendering the New York borough the epicenter of Black arts and entertainment. Around the same time in San Diego, California, a trio of Black business owners tried to replicate that same energy with the opening of the Hotel Douglas and the Creole Palace.
The hotel was opened by owners Robert and Mabel Rowe and fellow partner George Ramsey in 1924. According to lore. club was named for famed abolitionist and activist, Frederick Douglass.
Given the racial climate of the country at the time and the Jim Crow laws that were still prevalent even in the liberal West, the name was a fitting tribute. While the hotel thrived and served all manner of patrons, the shining jewel of the establishment was the Creole Palace nightclub.
The Palace gave Black San Diego a slice of the nightlife enjoyed by many in New York, and the “Cotton Club Of The West” attracted several up and coming jazz performers. While the Palace didn’t have the same drawing power as it would had it been on the East Coast, celebrities such as Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Count Basie and others were fixtures.
Along with emerging as a world-class performance venue, the Palace’s all-Black burlesque show rivaled anything coming out of Las Vegas. While the shows were decidedly segregated at the time, the Palace welcomed all races inside its doors to enjoy top-notch entertainment.
For over 30 years, Hotel Douglas stood tall in San Diego. The club finally shuttered its doors in 1956 after Mabel Rowe Ramsey sold the establishment.
PHOTO: San Diego Historical Society