Cedar Gardens was a restaurant and night spot that achieved regional and even national renown as a “black and tan” club in the 1930s and 1940s. Jacob Hecht opened Cedar Gardens at 9706 Cedar Avenue in January 1934. Hecht, who was White, had hired 65 employees by 1937, all of whom were Black. He turned to longtime Black restaurateur Ulysses S. “Sweets” Dearing to manage the restaurant, which in spite of advertising “Chinese and American” food at first became known for its southern barbecued chicken and spareribs.
Born in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1904, and raised in a “tarpaper shack,” Dearing had become a successful young entrepreneur who operated the Dearing Hotel and a restaurant in Pittsburgh. He had left the “Smoky City” in 1930 after losing his restaurant in a major flood, arriving in Cleveland on the bus, he later said, “with 98 cents in my pocket.” He found work as a short-order cook before coming to Hecht’s notice.
Dearing vaulted Cedar Gardens into the national spotlight within a short time. In 1937, the Pittsburgh Courier dubbed it “the most famous night spot between New York and Chicago. Cedar Gardens was part of an effervescent nightlife scene that emerged in the 1930s in the vicinity of Cedar and East 97th Street, which vied with the East 55th Street–Central Avenue area as “Cleveland’s Harlem.” Cedar Gardens added to this reputation by opening the Parisian Cocktail Bar in December 1934 and introducing racy floor shows a year later.
Although Dearing left after a few years to manage Benny Mason’s Cedar Country Club, a resort on a farm in semi-rural Solon, Cedar Gardens continued to attract a wide range of top-billed entertainment from jazz to drag shows. The latter may have been among the “improper influences” cited by the Army in adding Cedar Gardens to its list of “off bounds” nightspots in 1944. After World War II, Cedar Gardens was sufficiently restrained in its offerings to find favor in the form of a Green Book listing. It is not clear why Cedar Gardens was delisted after 1955, but it continued to offer musical entertainment until it closed in 1969 following a fire in the building it occupied.
Green Book Details
Cedar Gardens appears in the Green Book from 1946 to 1955 under the category Taverns.
- “Big New Years Celebration At Cedar Gardens.” Call & Post. December 22, 1934.
- “Cedar Gardens.” Call & Post. January 27, 1934.
- “Cedar Gardens Gala Opening.” Pittsburgh Courier. September 21, 1940.
- “Cedar Gardens Goes ‘Non-Union,’ But Its Because They Have To.” Pittsburgh Courier. March 20, 1937.
- “Cedar Gardens, Owned by Whites, Employs 100% Colored Help.” Pittsburgh Courier. March 20, 1937.
- Johnson, Déanda Marie. “Thoroughly Modern: African American Women’s Dress and the Culture of Consumption in Cleveland, Ohio, 1890-1940.” Ph.D. diss., The College of William and Mary, 2014. 194–95.
- Leacacos, John P. “Army Ban Now on Eight Night Spots.” Cleveland Plain Dealer. June 12, 1942.
- Peery, Richard M. “Civic Club to Honor Dearing.” The Plain Dealer. August 21, 1981.
- “U. S. Dearing Making Good in Cleveland.” Pittsburgh Courier. July 14, 1934.
- “Ulysses S. Dearing, 80, Restaurant, Club Operator.” The Plain Dealer. June 25, 1984.