Category Archives: Jazz Landmarks

Philadelphia Convention Hall

Philadelphia Convention Hall, also known as Municipal Auditorium, was located in West Philly near the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

Convention Hall - 34th and Spruce

The venue played host to many events, including the 1940 and 1948 Republican National Conventions, and the 1959 Penn Relays Jazz Festival. Luminaries such as Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela spoke there.

On October 19, 1957, the Philadelphia Jazz Festival was held at Convention Hall. Jazz trumpeter and Philly native Lee Morgan was on the bill, along with, among others, trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Horace Silver and organist Jimmy Smith.

Convention Hall was demolished in 2005.

The Met

Located on North Broad Street, the Metropolitan Opera House was known as “The Met.”

#JanesWalkPHL - The Met2

From Curbed Philadelphia:

The Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House was built in 1908 by Oscar Hammerstein I, the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II. Designed by architect William H. McElfatrick, it sat some 4,000 people, becoming the largest theater of its kind in the world. After some time Hammerstein I fell into debt and sold the property, which then went through a number of owners. Over the years it’s served as a movie theater, circus venue, ballroom, and most recently, a church.

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UPDATE: Developer Eric Blumenfeld is restoring the Metropolitan Opera House to its original glory. The historic entertainment venue is scheduled to reopen in December 2018 as a Live Nation venue.

Met-Opera-House

Wharton Settlement House

Legendary saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson began his career in Philadelphia with Benjamin Clarence “Bull Moose” Jackson. In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master recounted:

Three weeks after I joined the band, we landed a gig at the Wharton Settlement, 22nd Street and Columbia Avenue, a public venue for basketball, dances, swimming, checkers (anything to keep kids from idleness on city streets). We were paid: too good to be true, but welcome. Jackson’s band played stock arrangements that cost seventy-five cents each, most of which written by Spud Murphy or Van Alexander (who recently died at age one hundred) and other writers I have forgotten. Our repertoire included “Take the A Train,” “One O’Clock Jump,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” “The 9:20 Special,” “Stardust,” “Down for Double,” and a variety of honorable standards. Sure enough, I received four dollars that night. It was months before I actually spent those precious few dollars, but I was on my way.

Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.

O.V. Catto Elks Lodge

Octavius Valentine Catto was a 19th century educator and activist. He was killed on October 10, 1871, Election Day, when he tried to exercise his right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment.

O.V. Catto

Located at 16th and Fitzwater streets, the O.V. Catto Elks Lodge was a hub of community life for 30 years. In addition to its large meeting space and recreation facilities (including a full boxing ring and a basketball court), the building boasted a large roof garden for formal gatherings.

O.V. Catto Lodge - Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

The lodge’s Two Bit Club was also a draw. In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master recounted that for two years he played with the Mickey Collins Orchestra every Sunday at this South Philly landmark. This photo was taken in 1946 when Golson was 17.

O.V. Catto Lodge - Benny Golson

Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.

The O.V. Catto Elks Lodge 1903 banner has been conserved by the Philadelphia History Museum.

O.V. Catto Elks Lodge Banner

Elate Ballroom

The Elate Ballroom was located on the second floor of 711 S. Broad Street. The Elate Club was on the ground floor.

Joe Webb and his Decca Recording Orchestra featuring Big Maybelle played here at the “Shine on the Harvest Moon Dance” presented by legendary dance promoter Reese DuPree.

Elate Ballroom - Reese DuPree v2

John Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter wrote:

Coltrane was hired when [Joe] Webb played for dancers in Philadelphia’s Elate Ballroom at 711 South Broad Street on Friday, September 13, 1946. Cal Massey (1928-72), a trumpeter from Pittsburgh, called “Folks” after his mother’s maiden name, happened to walk by when the band was playing and he ended up in the trumpet’s section. A lifelong friendship between Massey and Coltrane began as the two toured the country with the Webb band.

Porter, Lewis. John Coltrane: His Life and Music. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Palais Royal

Opened in 1919. the Philadelphia Tribune described the Palais Royal as “the finest colored ball room in America.”

Palais Royal - 711 S. Broad Street - Arrow

On May 4, 1937, the Chick Webb Orchestra, featuring Ella Fitzgerald, played a dance here.

Palais Royal Cropped

In the 1940s, the Palais Royal was the home of the Elate Ballroom, the Elate Club and the Sydney King School of Dance.

Blue Horizon

The Blue Horizon was located in the former Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 54.

Blue Horizon - Moose Lodge

The property ceased operations as an active Moose lodge shortly after World War II. It remained under the organization’s ownership through the 1950s.

In 1961, Jimmy Toppi Sr. purchased the property for $85,000. He renamed it after the song “Beyond the Blue Horizon” from the 1930 film “Monte Carlo.” Its limited seating capacity meant big box office fights took place elsewhere –- at the Arena and Convention Hall in West Philly and the Spectrum in South Philly.

Blue Horizon - Vintage

The Ring magazine voted the Blue Horizon the #1 boxing venue in the world; Sports Illustrated called it “the last great boxing venue in the country.”

Blue Horizon

The Blue Horizon closed in June 2010.

Curtis Institute of Music

The Curtis Institute of Music is a conservatory located in Rittenhouse Square. According to U.S. News & World Report, it has the lowest acceptance rate of any college or university (3.2%), making it the most selective institution of higher education in the United States.

The Institute’s most celebrated rejected applicant is Nina Simone who was denied admission even though she had given classical piano recitals since age 10. Jazz.com reported:

At the age of seventeen, Simone moved to New York to take classes at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She then moved with her family to Philadelphia, where she auditioned for the city’s prestigious Curtis Institute, a conservatory of classical music.

Simone sought the help of a private instructor to help her audition for the Curtis Institute, but was ultimately denied after a supposedly excellent audition. Simone said she later found out from an insider at Curtis that she was denied entry because she was black. This heightened her anger over the racism which was pervasive in the United States during this period.

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NB: The Curtis Institute awarded Nina Simone an Honorary Doctor in Music and Humanities two days before her death in 2003.