Dayton Daily News from Dayton, Ohio on February 1, 2004 · 20
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Dayton Daily News from Dayton, Ohio · 20

Dayton, Ohio
Issue Date:
Sunday, February 1, 2004
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ASO DAYTON DAILY NEWS BLACK HISTORY MONTH SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2004 Fifth: 'Everything you wanted was there' CONTINUED FROM Al created a community along West Fifth Street like no other in the city. "West Filth Street was Dayton's Harlem," 78-year-old Bernice Sumlin, said. "Everything you wanted was there." Folks called it the Main Drag, the Nickel. Some claim West Fifth Street faded away as the civil rights movement brought an end to segregation. Others insist the construction of Interstate 75 through neighborhoods surrounding the business district uprooted families and relocated West Fifth patrons. What once was a straight shot across the Fifth Street bridge all the way to Broadway and beyond is now hacked into two sections because of the interstate. There's no direct access to downtown Dayton. The property on the north side of Fifth Street between Williams and Broadway is part of an urban renewal district. The city hopes to preserve one remaining commercial building and about four houses, said Amy Walbridge, community development specialist for the city of Dayton. "We're committed to saving as many buildings (on West Fifth) as we can because of the rich, black history of the area," Walbridge said. "There's no grand plan, but we do hope people will see the potential." In April 2003, the city rezoned that stretch of land from commercial to residential use to eliminate potential competition with the business district on West Third Street. The Nickel once thrived as the business district. Forty-three establishments were in business between Bank Street and Broadway around 1920; by 1940 there were at least 71, according to city records. On Thursday nights, the Waiters and Bellman Club, 1333 W. Fifth St., drew a crush of patrons for the talent show and food prepared by Big Ella McDay. On Saturday, 16 cents paid for a double feature at die Classic. "We were exuberant to have our own theater," retired nurse Evelyn Wilks, 76, said. "Some downtown theaters admitted blacks, but we had to sit in the balcony." In the evening on West Fifth, folks would zigzag across the street for live music at the Owl Club, drinks around the horseshoe bar at Harris' Cocktail Lounge, steaks at the Swats Club, or a adult only shows called the Midnight Ramble at the Palace Theater. "I'd come home from work sometimes and could hardly wait to take my little old $2 and go down on Fifth Street," Fred J. Smith, 81, said. Come Sunday morning, the devout could choose their place of worship along West Fifth, including Wayman AME Church, St. John Baptist Church and West LibertyGreater Allen AME Zion Baptist Church on Sprague Street and St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Norwood also were quick walks away. "In the evening, West Fifth Street would light up like it was daylight with the theaters, the pool rooms, restaurants and bars. I knew everybody who lived there. Everyone looked out for each other," Lasley said. "It's all gone." The wonder that was the Nickel now lives on only in the memories of the people who experienced it. Crulsinq the Nickel James 'Foots' Jackson buffed his Flor-sheim shoes until his reflection beamed back. It was a methodical task for the 20-year-old who learned to shine when he was 12 at Kitchen's Barber Shop on Western Avenue. In the closet hung his navy suit double-breasted with thin, chalk stripes flawlessly pressed by his grandmother, Florida Weeks. It took months to pay for the $50 suit, purchased on credit at the Metropolitan clothing store. On Easter 1936, the Jackson family dressed in their best to attend morning services at Phillips Temple CME Church on Germantown Street. Later, when the older folks settled around the table with slices of sweet potato pie, James sauntered out the front door. No one needed to ask where he was going. "Cruising the Nickel, that's (West) Fifth Street: That's going down to the Nickel. Streetcars cost three cents . . . but I didn't even ride the streetcar, I walked so people could see me. Showing off my new togs, yeah," Jackson said. "Every Easter Sunday, the girls would put on their Easter bonnets and the boys would put on their best suits and we would walk up and down Fifth Street all the way from Summit Street to the bridge showing off our nice, new clothes. That's right, that's cruising the NickeL" Jackson became the first black supervisor at Delco Products in 1966. He's retired now and still lives in Dayton. Jazzinq It up For 80-year-old Prince Davis, West Fifth Street was all about the music. In 1938, the skinny 15-year-old lay on his bed surrounded by newspapers and copies of Down Beat magazine when he Then: HANDOUT PHOTO Prince Davis loved jazz and the music scene on West Fifth Street. He played with Dizzie Gillespie in the 1940s and the '50s. Now: JIM WITMERDAYTON DAILY NEWS Davis, 80, has shared his love of music with children as a teacher and counselor for Dayton public schools for 36 years. .wwm X read jazz musician Louis Armstrong was coming to Dayton. No doubt about it. Davis would get in to see "Satchmo." "I was thrilled of course, to see the guy in person. Louis Armstrong at that time, he was very popular," Davis said. Davis earned $15 a week working for Paramount Amusement Club. He put placards in shop windows to promote shows. "Some of the bands they promoted were Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Buddy Johnson, Chick Web. Out of Chick Web's band came Ella Fitzgerald," Davis said. "I got a chance to meet all these people, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday. I became friends with some of the members of Count Bassie's band, and I think that's what started me playing music." Though he was still in high school, Davis had no trouble getting into shows. "I was always with the musicians. That's how I got in," Davis said. "I saw Louie Armstrong play at the Cotton Club (the ballroom above the Palace Theater). I was right up there at the bandstand. He picked up his trumpet and stated blasting and screaming those big notes. He had some good chops." The impression Armstrong left on Davis went beyond the instrumental. "Louie Armstrong had a tremendous smile. He was holding this white handkerchief that was his trademark. His voice is what struck me more than anything. Everybody tried to imitate his voice," Davis said. Davis learned to play the clarinet at Dunbar High School and in the U.S. Navy picked up all the saxophones. By the late 1940s, he was no longer standing on the sidelines. "Dizzie Gillespie, now he was funny. He had the right nickname," Davis said. "I had a chance to play with him in the '40s or '50s. When they came to Dayton they were looking for a saxophone because (James) Moody had left. Next thing I know, I'm on the bandstand with him at the Cotton Club, scared to death. The place was jumping and I felt pretty good." Davis earned a bachelor's degree in music from the University of Dayton in 1959 and a master's in guidance and counseling from Ohio University in 1970. He shared his talent and love of music with children as a teacher and counselor for Dayton public schools for 36 years. Bernice Sumlin said she also didn't miss a chance to hear legends like Duke Ellington play in the early 1940s, even though she was too young to go to the West Fifth clubs. "We stood on the comer of Williams and Fifth and looked directly into the ballroom of the Palace where Duke Ellington was playing. We couldn't get in . . . because it was so crowded, so they closed down Fifth Street and everyone danced in the street," Sumlin said. "(Duke Ellington) would come over to the ballroom windows and wave." Rememberlnq Wayman Church Dancing in the street was fine on a CITY OF DAYTON: 1950 low- Sj,, flfW51, srv i JQM ' f. htm CITY OF DAYTON: 2004 1 DAYTON DAILY NEWS Saturday afternoon, but never on a Sunday. Wayman Church, at Fifth and Bank streets, was both spiritual home and social hub for many who lived near the Main Drag. "My parents, Wright and Gussie Sumlin, were very devout. Every Sunday no choice church all day. We could go see movies on Saturday, but never Sunday," Bernice Sumlin said. "Wayman Church was the center of our life. It was a beautiful edifice with crystal chandeliers. We had all of our recreational activities there." She had just turned 13, when Sumlin was invited to model at the annual Wayman fashion show around 1938. Youth director Lucy Bentley taught Sumlin to walk and make graceful turns on the runway. She also presented the teenager with her first pair of low-healed shoes, called pumps. Sumlin was excited, and a little afraid that her mother wouldn't allow her to wear the shoes and required silk stockings. "I didn't think my mother was ready for that. She was very concerned that I was growing up too fast," Sumlin said. "I was able to wear my . . . pumps. To this day, I remember." Sumlin said she lived at the very end off West Fifth Street, on Grosvenor Avenue, a good 40 blocks from the church. "Back then, I wasn't afraid to go anywhere. The people who owned businesses in the black community were also members of your church, so you felt close and connected. I knew all of the people in the community, the business that they ran and, they knew me," Sumlin said. "It's gone now the warmth, connection and the friendship." Sumlin is a former national president of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She retired in 1980 after a 35-year career with Dayton Public Schools working first as a teacher and later as adminis trator for alternative programs. Cox's Druqstore After Sunday services, the congregation drifted west. "Every Sunday after church I walked down to Cox'S Drug Store with my friend, Barbara Taylor Heard," Sumlin said. "We'd get strawberry sodas or milk shakes. Ice cream was a nickel a dip (in the 1930s)." Children liked Cox's low bar stools. Couples preferred the marble-top tables, with wire-back chairs shaped like hearts. LeRoy Cox opened the drug store at 842 W. Fifth St. in 1921 and it quickly became a prominent business on the Main Drag. With 16 black doctors having offices on West Fifth Street between 1921 and 1960, 'Dr. Cox' as he was known, had a thriving pharmacy, but what people remember most is the ice cream. In the summer of 1933, Roderick W. Pugh, then a student at Steel High School, decided it was time to get a job. His father, Dr. George W. Pugh, had offices right across the street from the drugstore, and, he was a friend of the pharmacist "I was 15 and Dr. Cox gave me my first job working behind the soda fountain," Pugh said. "I loved ice cream." Cox told Pugh he could eat all the ice cream he wanted as long as he ate it out of the view of customers. "The first few days I ate so much I got sick of it," Pugh said. "After I'd been there a couple of days, I never ate anymore." Pugh, 84, is a retired clinical psychologist living in Chicago. Ben's hamburgers The first time Ben Logan of Dayton set eyes on Jeanne Ross Logan in her hometown of Richmond, Ind., in 1945, he knew he wanted to marry the beautiful brunette and bring her to his city. "Ben brought me to Dayton to sec this black community where people worked together and stuck together, Jeanne said. "I never knew there was anything in the world like West Fifth Street. It was just magnificent." About 1946, the couple bought their first business, a confectionery at 1218 W. Fifth St; the building still stands. Jeanne worked the counter selling candy and tobacco products. "I'd walk down to a store on West Third Street and buy as much candy as I could carry," Logan said. "I always had my children with me. I carried three-month-old Jesse and the candy. Ben Jr. was a toddler. He held on to my coat." By 1948, the Logan family had remodeled the confectionery into the first of three Ben's Hamburgers. Beef ground fresh at the restaurant and homemade ice cream kept the red swivel stools at the counter full and the carry-out busy 24 hours a day for almost 40 years. "When students from Dunbar High School and Garfield got out for lunch, they'd run to get their hamburgers, then run all the way back to school," Logan said. At shift change, factory workers would slide in for dish of smothered steak and chili topped off with a mini sweet potato pie. "After all these years, we still have people ask us when we're going to open another restaurant and serve that smothered steak," she said. The Logans opened six other businesses on Fifth Street including Ben's Supper club, a barbecue place, a combination hotel and restaurant, a barber shop and Ben's Carry-out for a total of 11 businesses in West Dayton. All are closed now. "These were family businesses. Our sons Ben Jr. and Jesse worked beside us," Logan said. In the late 1960, Logan was accused by the IRS of not paying all his taxes that marked the beginning of demise of the Logan empire. "I was a kid and didn't know all the story, but I knew Dad was an honest man. He always prided himself in paying his bills on time," Jesse Logan said. "The IRS waited 10 years, then doubled the amount Dad owed them. I think the stress destroyed him. He died at 61 (in 1979)." The former site of Ben's Hotel on Fifth Street is now part of Sinclair Community College. The Ben's Motel location on Home Avenue is part of U.S. 35, and Interstate 75 includes the location of Ben's Hamburgers 2, which was on Germantown Pike. "I don't feel bad because time marches on," Jeanne said. That was our time back then." Logan, 82, still works part time as a server for the Trot-wood schools. YMCA and Linden Center While most of the West Fifth Street landmarks are gone, two buildings remain: the Linden Center and the YMCA. The swimming pool at the Linden Center is closed because of city budget cuts, but the gym is still used by the parks division. The echo of belly-flopping boys in the YMCA swimming pool will never be heard again. The building at 907 W. Fifth St. is a private business, DT Systems for Success. For many of Dayton's older blacks, their earliest and fondest memories of the Nickel took place at those two centers. "I can remember the sandboxes and the outdoor wading pools at the Linden Center and the swings and the older boys doing what they called a loop-de-loop," said John Harrison, 78, a Defense Electronics Supply Center retiree. "They'd actually push the smaller kids on the swings They'd push that swing until they got it to a velocity that it would take it completely over the top bar and come back down. You just hung on and you thought you were really doing something. You thought you were flying." For Lasley, who once lived at the Y and worked there as a youth director, the closing of the West Fifth Street branch in 1977 was the final, fatal blow to the once bustling area. "As youth we didn't have money, but we weren't hungry. We had holes in our shoes, but we were happy," Lasley said. "When they started dismantling West Fifth Street, the young people didn't have anyplace to go. You felt like you lost part of your heritage. You lost a part of yourself." Lasley continued to work with youth after he left the YMCA, spending 20 years employed with the Central State University Upward Bound program. Contact Joanne Hulst Smith at 225-2362. v t

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