Cafe Tia Juana opened in 1947 and was in operation until 1969. Cafe Tia Juana was located in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. Located at 1045 East 105th Street, Cafe Tia Juana was a safe place for African American travelers as well as residents of the Glenville neighborhood to grab a drink and watch numerous jazz musicians play shows. According to Cleveland’s Black weekly newspaper Call & Post, “Cafe Tia Juana, with its south-of-the-border atmosphere opened its doors Thursday, August 28th, and judging from the way the crowds have lined up at 105th and Massie since then, the doors are open for keeps.”
Cafe Tia Juana was decorated very elaborately and had numerous southern Pacific motifs. As the Call & Post reported, “The cafe seats approximately three hundred people around the circular shaped bar and in the luxurious multi-colored curved leather booths. At all these locations, one may sit and receive an unobstructed view of the entertainers as they stand atop the unique elevated musical bar.” Cafe Tia Juana was successful and had very few issues for most of its operation.
During the 1950s, however, Cafe Tia Juana came into the crossfire of many illegal and other unfortunate circumstances. At the time there was a slew of robberies in the area. Many Cafe patrons of the area were being assaulted and mugged. In 1957, for example, a local postal clerk was beaten and robbed of his paycheck. Prior to this, he was in and out of Cafe Tia Juana. When the Call & Post reported about this occurrence, a spokesperson from Tia Juana stated, “We know nothing of him being beaten and robbed because it didn’t happen in here—he was put out of here quietly, at around 2:20 a.m.” In October 1958 an argument had started inside Cafe Tia Juana and left one involved dead. Policeman Gilliam fatally shot the Cafe Tia Juana patron, which was later ruled justifiable. However, this led Cleveland Councilman Leo A. Jackson to call for Cafe Tia Juana to be closed. As Councilman Jackson told the Call & Post, “I was prompted to this action by a flood of calls asking that something be done. Residents of the area are alarmed about this place and they are fed up and that this is the best way out. All kinds of characters come there and the place has a record of being a hangout for undesirables.”
Much to Jackson’s dismay, the council ruled against the closure of Cafe Tia Juana. On October 25, 1958, the Call & Post expressed, “The council’s safety committee disapproved it by a vote of 7 to 1. Reportedly the council turned down the move as being ‘unprecedented’ and giving councils police powers.” Despite this outcome Jackson was still persistent in hopes of closing Cafe Tia Juana. He stated, “If padlocking the Tia Juana is unprecedented, then it is time City council takes some unprecedented action to forcefully remove thugs, racketeers, and hoodlums of Cleveland. We will no longer tolerate lawlessness.” This belief was common among more affluent African Americans who were upset with certain individuals creating problematic situations in their neighborhood. Cafe Tia Juana stayed in operation regardless of these class-rooted concerns.
For a short period of time in 1964, Cafe Tia Juana closed for roughly two months for undisclosed reasons. In April of that year, it reopened under new management, specifically, manager Maggie Witson and co-manager Geech Ball. Under new management Cafe Tia Juana offered affordable drinks as well as “Twenty-Five Cent day which prevails at the Tia Juana every Saturday until 6pm.”
Cafe Tia Juana closed in 1969. The particular reason is unknown. However, the neighborhood had just recently endured the wrenching Glenville Shootout in the previous summer, which led numerous other establishments in the area to shut down as well.
- Brown, Petra “Cafe Tia Juana,” Cleveland Historical, clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/882.
- “Cafe Owners Disturbed by Reports of Thefts.” Call & Post. December 7, 1957.
- “Maggie Whitson, Geech Bell, Re-Open Famous Tia Juana.” Call & Post. April 4, 1964.
- Price, Charles. “Council Ignores Tia Juana Issue.” Call & Post. October 25, 1958.
- Williams, Bob. “Tia Juana—A Name to Conjure; is Newest Star in Cafe Circles.” Call & Post. September 13, 1947.