The Ward family’s path to success was fraught with struggle. Prior to coming to Cleveland, William Ward, born in 1877 in Leesville, Virginia, was a bellhop at the Old Monongahela Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by day and attending business courses by night. Once he was done with his business courses, he decided to open the Ward-Stagg Hotel in Pittsburgh. Business difficulties ultimately forced Ward to close his hotel and tavern, and he lost $150,000 on this venture.
Down on his luck, he made his way to Ohio in the mid-1910s. He first went to Youngstown where he struggled due to a lack of opportunities in the city, making it clear to him that he would have to move again. Although Ward reached Cleveland with only a dollar and fifty cents in his pocket, he felt confident that he would succeed. A few weeks after his arrival, his wife and four children came to Cleveland and the family stayed with some friends they had known from Pittsburgh. Their friend’s home was on East 46th Street. Although the Ward family had temporary accommodations, they knew that they would have to find a more permanent residence. They eventually located a dilapidated apartment house at 4113 Cedar Avenue that did not even have a roof. Despite the building’s rough appearance, they had to take it because there was nothing else available. In the early years of living in what would become the Ward Apartment Hotel, William Ward got a job as a foreman and in the lobby of the building his wife Elizabeth opened a beauty parlor. In addition to providing cosmetology services, Mrs. Ward also did dressmaking and massages out of the parlor. Through their joint effort, the Wards purchased their apartment building in 1919.
The Wards knew they wanted to have a variety of activities at the hotel, but first they knew that they had to make it a family-friendly hotel for those moving to or visiting Cleveland. The hotel claimed it was a place that put courtesy, hospitality, and quietness above all else. The Wards also provided furnished apartments with one, two, or three bedrooms, as well as daily and weekly rates. As a result, they would have clientele that would either be there for a short or long period of time. The Ward Apartment Hotel also claimed to be “Cleveland’s Best Race Owned and Operated Hostelry,” a fact that helps account for its perennial inclusion in the Green Book from the 1938 inception of these national directories for black travelers.
Those who were staying for a short period of time could find a nice place to stay for a reasonable nightly fee, while those who stayed on a longer basis could find not only a nice place to stay but also activities at the hotel. The hotel would have events for its residents, such as the United Choral Ensemble who would come in the 1940s and sing to the elderly residents who were too infirm to leave the hotel. In addition, there was also spiritualist Dr. Prince who came to the basement of the Ward Hotel in 1943. Dr. Prince claimed to be able to tap into ancient secrets that had been kept hidden for 40,000 years. He also promised he could heal the sick by communicating with spirits, so he published an advertisement asking Clevelanders to bring their sick, so that they could be healed. There was certainly a wide variety of activities available to those residing at the Ward Hotel.
Although there were wholesome activities, there was also illicit gambling and alcohol sales, as well as a couple of robberies at the Ward Hotel. There were allegations of illegal gambling and liquor sales in the basement of the Ward Apartment Hotel that came to light during the McKinnon Divorce trial. Special policeman Walter Eliot Johnson was appointed by Police Prosecutor Bernard J. Conway to investigate claims of illegal enterprises taking place in the basement at the Ward Apartment Hotel and he saw these illegal acts firsthand. When the police went to the hotel, the enterprise had already been moved to another location. In the mid-1950s, there was an increase in crackdowns on illegal gambling and illegal alcohol sales among black-owned businesses. In addition, African American–run hotels were often targets of robberies and there were various robberies at the Ward Hotel. In 1951, the night clerk, Edward Richards, was working at 6 a.m. when a man put his hand in his pocket making it seem that he had a gun, while he robbed the hotel. The robber got $14 out of the register. Again in 1952, there was a robbery where night clerk, Lawrence Russell, was severely beaten unconscious and was sent to Charity Hospital for two weeks while he recovered from a double jaw fracture and dislocated shoulder along with other injuries.
Despite these hardships, the Ward Apartment Hotel always attempted to provide shelter to those who needed it in Cleveland. Even after William Ward’s death in 1941, the Ward family continued to run the hotel until Elizabeth Ward sold it in 1956. Although William Ward came to Cleveland with only a dollar and fifty cents in his pocket, he and his family were able to run a respectable hotel in the face of multiple hardships.
Green Book Details
Ward Apartment Hotel appears in the Green Book from 1938 to 1967 at 4113 Cedar Ave. under the category Hotels.
- Banks-Hoffman, Ruth. “Wards Came Here in 1916 to Open Up Family Hotel.” Call & Post. February 2, 1957.
- Daschbach, J.C. “Liquor Tips Disclosed in Divorce.” Cleveland Plain Dealer. January 4, 1957.
- “Display Ad 11 — No Title.” Call & Post. March 31, 1938.
- Kincy, Floyd and Thelma Flenore. “What..! When..! Where..!” Call & Post. April 10, 1943.
- “Photo Standalone 2 — No Title.” Call & Post. October 2, 1943.
- (Staff photo by Patrick). “Photo Standalone 32 — No Title.” Call & Post. February 2, 1957.
- “Ward Hotel Held Up, Night Clerk Robbed.” Call & Post. May 26, 1951.
- “Undersized Clerk in Hotel Badly Beaten.” Call & Post. October 4, 1952.
- “Wm. T. Ward, Sr., Hotel Man, Dies After Stroke.” Call & Post. December 27, 1941.
- Young Armstead, Myra B. “Revisiting Hotels and Other Lodgings: American Tourist Spaces through the Lens of Black Pleasure-Travelers, 1880-1950.” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 25 (January 1, 2005): 136–59.