Opened on August 31, 1914 as the Knickerbocker Theatre, the 2,500-seat venue was renamed Fay’s Theatre in 1918.
From West Philadelphia Collaborative History:
In its jazz heyday, Fay’s served as a symbolic place for local African Americans, if not a literal one. Fay’s booked performers like Duke Ellington—popular and highly visible members of the larger African American community—who were part of an emerging Black identity evolving in the African American press. Part of the emerging identity was a deep concern with issues of developing critical citizenship, fighting oppression, and gaining civil rights. Fay’s Theatre embodied this, having been dedicated to Florence Mills, who was remembered by the Philadelphia Tribune as a Black singer whose success in the mainstream allowed other Black musicians to succeed.
Fay’s also maintained a friendly and equitable relationship with local Black musicians. Fay’s often included performances by the Local 274, members of an African American musicians union, created to protect its members from the unethical and racist behaviors of many theater owners across the city. They performed there frequently. Famously, during a musicians’ strike in 1935 when most of the musical venues in the city went dark, shows at Fay’s kept going, thanks in part to their willingness to raise worker wages in accord with the requests of the Local 274.
“The Jazz Ambassadors” tells the story of when the U.S. State Department asked jazz icons to travel the world as cultural ambassadors during the Cold War. Their mission was at the intersection of race, civil rights and public diplomacy.
The film premieres on May 4, 2018 on PBS. Check your local listings.
Under the proprietorship of Stan Cooper, this West Philly jazz spot was hot in the 1950s. It played host to jazz and blues greats such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, Ella Fitzgerald, Lucky Millender, John Coltrane, Dinah Washington, Bull Moose Jackson and Erskine Hawkins. Nat King Cole played several gigs here in 1951.
Club Harlem folded in 1952 following a dispute with Union Local 274, the black musicians union.
Founded in 1937 and formally opened three years later, the Philadelphia Pyramid Club was a small, exclusive club for black professionals. Its mission was to foster the “cultural, civic, and social advancement of Negroes in Philadelphia.” The membership fee was $120, and monthly dues were $2.40.
The club hosted a wide range of social and cultural activities, including performances by Marian Anderson and Duke Ellington and, after 1941, annual art exhibitions for African American artists. It also hosted events with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. During the Pyramid Club’s heyday, its membership rolls were a Who’s Who of black Philadelphia.
The club was dissolved in 1963.
Elks Lodge BPOE No. 2 later became the Broadwood Hotel.
Duke Ellington performed here on Nov. 16, 1948 in the Crystal Ballroom. A notice in Billboard read:
This marks the first time in three years for a name band dance promotion in the hotel’s large ballroom and the first time for a Negro band to play the ballroom on a one-night promotion.
The Crystal Ballroom was used as a recording studio by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Symphony and a basketball court. The historical marker out front notes the home games of the SPHAs basketball team (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association), a predecessor of the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, were played at the former Broadwood Hotel.
The hotel was replaced by a parking lot in 1994.