Music Clubs & Night ClubsTheaters

Ritz Theatre

Opened in 1949 on 70 North Howard Street, the Ritz Theater quickly became the place to go for movies and stage entertainment for Akron’s Black community. Originally named the Knickerbocker Theater located on 407 East Market Street from 1916 to 1923, it then reopened in the same location from 1927 to 1929 as the Ritz Theater. The Ritz was operated by the Maryland Theaters Corporation, a subsidiary of two larger theater companies District Theaters Company and Bijou Amusement Company. The two companies owned more than 100 Black movie theaters across the United States. The 811 seat theater had its grand opening on April 16th, 1949 with a showing of Louis Jordan performing Beware! and Rocky Lane in Oklahoma Badlands. For the grand opening, tickets were 10 cents for children, 25 cents for adults before 6 PM, and 35 cents after 6.

Ritz Theater Showtimes. The Ohio Informer. January 22, 1955.

The building was designed by Akron local M. M. Konarski, an architect with the Howe Construction Company. In 1948, the construction cost about $160,000, over $2 million today. Konarski was known for his designs around Akron, also designing a Black community center next to East Market Gardens in 1949.

The theater became a place of pride for Akron’s Black community. Between performances, the theater would show All American News, a news program which focused on news about African-Americans across the country. Akron’s Black community could go to the Ritz and get a high quality movie viewing experience –something that was difficult before. Richard Curling in the Akron Beacon Journal described the Ritz as “one of the few movies that we could go into where we could sit downstairs” as “the rest of the theaters, generally the Blacks had to sit up in the balcony”. The theater closed in 1955, with the rise of television and rock music partially blamed. Stage shows that originally would perform at the Ritz started going to the Akron Armory instead. By the end, shows cost 50 to 75 cents a person, but this wasn’t enough to keep the theater afloat.

“Native Son” Film Advertisement. The Ohio Informer. January 22, 1955.

After the Ritz closed, the building would temporarily become a roller skating rink, dance club, and used as an office for the Summit County Society of the Blind. The building didn’t stay one thing for long, until eventually becoming the Interbelt Nite Club in 1988, a gay nightclub that still operates to this day.

Resources

  • “Movie Going Up at Beech and N. Howard.” Akron Beacon Journal. November 2, 1948.
  • “Start Negro Center Building Wednesday.” Akron Beacon Journal. May 17, 1949.
  • “Glitz at the Ritz.” Akron Beacon Journal. February 25, 2008.
  • “Ritz Theatre.” Akron Beacon Journal. August 28, 1949.
  • “Ritz.” The Ohio Informer. January 22, 1955.
  • Advertisement. The Ohio Informer. January 22, 1955.
  • Advertisement. Akron Beacon Journal. April 15th, 1949.
  • A History of Akron Gay Life, 1948-2009: 61 Years Out in the City. 2009.
70 N. Howard St. Akron, OH, 44308