Jump to content

Washington Theater At 2711 Odin Ave.


Don Julio

Recommended Posts

Has the history of the Washington Theater been fully explored here?

It appears that this was a live music theater active in Houston in the mid-to-late 1920s. What makes it interesting is that from the advertisements, it featured African-American musical talent but catered to a white audience.

It was located at 2711 Odin Ave. in 1925, then moved to 2737 Odin in late 1926.

Does anybody have a photograph?

Here are some of the ads, all from the Houston Press:

1/27/1925: Broadway Rastus including the original Liza Girls - For White People Only

4/7/1925: Sledge and Sledge All Colored Review with the famous comedian Pot Licker -- coming next week Sippie Wallace, famous blue singer - For Whites Only

4/15/1925: Sippie Wallace - Okeh Record - Greatest Blue (sic) Singer - Note: Sippi (sic) "totes" a mean contralto voice, just suited for low-down blues - "Whites Only"

4/20/1925: "Footlight Follies" - All-Star Colored Artists with Esther Bigeou, Okeh Record Singer, and former leading lady with Broadway Rastus - Assisted by Will Eldridge and a Big Chorus

1/13/1926: McGann's Ragtime Stompers - Girls, Girls, Girls - 25 people with their own Jazz Band

1/12/1927: Mamie Smith, Victor Record Artist and her gang of 25 Broadway Negro Stars (no "Whites Only" designation)

2/9/1927: Original Dusty Murray and his Strutting Along Company presents "Chocolate Town" - A merry musical revue - Jazz band - Dancers - Hear this broadcast 11:15 Wed. over KFVI

2/17/1927: Wiley and Wiley, Blues Singers - Exclusive Okeh Record Artists - Bo Kelly, Musical Tramp - Chavers and Chavers, They make musical instruments laugh - Special Show for White People

3/10/1927: George Williams and Bessie Brown, Columbia Record Stars and their New York Revue

4/7/1927: Big Jazz Band - 30 people - Whitman Sisters

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Odin St. was up in the heart of the Fifth Ward "downtown" around Lyons St., right around where the 59 is today. I'm assuming that they would have a special show for whites only since blacks and whites weren't used to mixing and these performers were probably very popular with both races.

A little research shows that Sippie Wallace was from Houston and Mamie Smith sold a million copies of "Crazy Blues" in the 20s.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Take a look at Bands and Orchestras of Houstons Past - topic. There are other bands that go to the 1920's era in our city. :lol:

I personally would love to know if more Vaudeville acts ever came thru Houston. We may never know? I keep thinking of song "Alexander's Ragtime Band".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4/15/1925: Sippie Wallace - Okeh Record - Greatest Blue (sic) Singer - Note: Sippi (sic) "totes" a mean contralto voice, just suited for low-down blues - "Whites Only"
A little research shows that Sippie Wallace was from Houston and Mamie Smith sold a million copies of "Crazy Blues" in the 20s.

Hope this doesn't take things too far afield, but a little bit more about Sippie Wallace...

Sippie Wallace was a respected blues singer who lived and performed until 1986 (she died at 88). She was sometimes billed as "The Texas Nightingale". Wallace wrote most of her own material, including at least some part of the lyrics to a song of hers that I like called "Women Be Wise". Bonnie Raitt covered the song, and she and Wallace did a live duet version of the song that is on one of Raitt's better-selling albums (you can hear a bit of Wallace's sound on the sample snippet of "Women Be Wise" here and here).

51DwWcKrXNL._SS500_.jpg

51Pnof5ZQ8L._SS500_.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sippie Wallace lived long enough to star at the Juneteenth Blues Festival at Hermann Park in about 1985. I was there. I think Whitmire dubbed it Sippie Wallace Day and the whole nine yards. She also appeared on Letterman around that time. She spent most of her middle age and elderly years in Detroit. "I'm a Mighty Tight Woman" was another of her hits.

Her sister Hociel Thomas was also a blues singer; Hociel wound up killing another of their sisters in a fight and was acquitted.

Hociel and Sippie were the daughters of George W. Thomas, a deacon at Shiloh Baptist Church on Lyons Avenue. Their nephew Hersal Thomas is credited as being the inventor of boogie-woogie piano music, which he accomplished before dying at 17 of food poisoning.

Esther Bigeou, another of the attractions at the Washington, was a Creole singer from New Orleans billed as "The Creole Songbird" and "The Girl With The Million Dollar Smile." She died in 1936.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I personally would love to know if more Vaudeville acts ever came thru Houston. We may never know? I keep thinking of song "Alexander's Ragtime Band".

Every city in this country big enough to have a small theater was on the Vaudeville circuit. I'm talking mainly about stage theaters built for live perfomers, not movie theaters. Movies were, after all, what ultimately killed Vaudeville, much as TV almost killed the movies in the 50s.

Houston had a bunch of Vaudeville houses. Small places for small time acts, some for middlers, and the big palatial theaters for the big time acts. Let me refer you to a wonderful website that tells the story of Vaudeville much better than I could.

http://www.musicals101.com/vaude1.htm

Hell, even Nacogdoches up in east Texas had a small opera house that booked touring Vaudeville acts. It's where the Marx Brothers act was born. When the Marx brothers were still teenagers, they were still touring with their entire family. Mother, uncle, brothers, sisters, the whole gang, and they were all part of the act.

One night around 1919, during their act, a mule outside in the street panicked and ran around knocking people and carriages over. It drew quite a crowd, including most of the people in the theater, who thought a runaway mule was more interesting than the Marx family.

The family figured that anytime they could be upstaged by a runaway mule, it was time to change the act, so everybody but the five brothers dropped out and went home to New York. That left Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo and Zeppo to carry on the family name and make them all rich.

Edited by FilioScotia
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The practices of the Washington Theatre resemble those at The Cotton Club, a famous nightclub in New York City located in Harlem that operated during and after Prohibition. Black entertainers, for example, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, performed there and the Club featured a chorus line of "light-skinned" Black chorus girls. Although the Club featured Black entertainers, it denied admission to Blacks.

If the Washington Theatre had different shows for Blacks and Whites, it is likely because the segregationist laws in force in Texas at the time mandated that Blacks and Whites not commingle at sporting, cultural and entertainment events.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If the Washington Theatre had different shows for Blacks and Whites, it is likely because the segregationist laws in force in Texas at the time mandated that Blacks and Whites not commingle at sporting, cultural and entertainment events.

True, but it's still unusual to see an advertisement for a club in 1925 explicitly state, "For White People Only." Perhaps they felt they had to do so because they primarily featured black entertainment. It seems probable that there were also shows for a black clientele, but these were not advertised. At any rate, it's not generally documented that there even was a white audience for "low-down blues" in Texas circa 1925.

The 1927 ads that say "Special Show for White People" imply that the theater had liberalized its policy, or at least its language, by that point.

It's pretty hard to conjure a mental image of the Fifth Ward in 1925. Odin Street itself is today just a clump of weeds.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

True, but it's still unusual to see an advertisement for a club in 1925 explicitly state, "For White People Only." Perhaps they felt they had to do so because they primarily featured black entertainment. It seems probable that there were also shows for a black clientele, but these were not advertised. At any rate, it's not generally documented that there even was a white audience for "low-down blues" in Texas circa 1925.

The 1927 ads that say "Special Show for White People" imply that the theater had liberalized its policy, or at least its language, by that point.

It's pretty hard to conjure a mental image of the Fifth Ward in 1925. Odin Street itself is today just a clump of weeds.

Well not being from Houston, I can't say whether a sign the explicitly stated, "For White People" on an advertisement for a club was unusual or not. I'll have to take your word for it. It wasn't unusual for signs that read "White Only" outside of restrooms, water fountains, waitings rooms to be prominently posted. In fact, I have several signs like this that are part of a collection of artifacts from the period of de jure segregation. The Cotton Club had no such sign, but everyone knew the Club catered only to a White Audience. Perhaps as you say the changed signs between 1925 and 1927 indicates that instead of not allowing Blacks to attend the Theatre, its policy changed to accommodate both White and Black audiences at different times.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

True, but it's still unusual to see an advertisement for a club in 1925 explicitly state, "For White People Only." Perhaps they felt they had to do so because they primarily featured black entertainment. It seems probable that there were also shows for a black clientele, but these were not advertised. At any rate, it's not generally documented that there even was a white audience for "low-down blues" in Texas circa 1925.

The 1927 ads that say "Special Show for White People" imply that the theater had liberalized its policy, or at least its language, by that point.

It's pretty hard to conjure a mental image of the Fifth Ward in 1925. Odin Street itself is today just a clump of weeds.

I believe that Odin Street and Lyons Avenue are one and the same.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe that Odin Street and Lyons Avenue are one and the same.

Is it possible to find the exact date the street names were changed and why?

Also, mom said that theaters like The Metropolitan and The Loews State on Main St were segregated in the 1940's. Not sure when they finally gave up the practice. The Rice Hotel was also very selective of whom were allowed to have entry much less a function.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mom said that theaters like The Metropolitan and The Loews State on Main St were segregated in the 1940's. Not sure when they finally gave up the practice. The Rice Hotel was also very selective of whom were allowed to have entry much less a function.

When I was kid growing up in east Texas in the 40s and 50s, blacks were allowed into the movie houses, but they had to come in through a side door and they had to sit in the balcony. I think that was also the practice at most Houston area theaters.

Looking back on that from 50 and 60 years later it's hard to believe that could go on, but that's just the way things were.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is it possible to find the exact date the street names were changed and why?

The name change appears to have occurred in the late 1800's. Marks Hinton, in his book on Houston street names, says that it occurred in 1894, and that the original Odin St. (now Lyons) and current Odin St. (in the Third Ward) were named after Bishop Odin of the Diocese of Galveston (named bishop in 1847). Lyons, on the other hand, he says refers to John Lyons, who had a saloon on Odin/Lyons.

I found a March 13, 1894 newspaper article referencing a petition signed by John Lyons and other Fifth-Ward residents asking that "Lyons avenue be opened to Odin avenue, and that the name of Lyons avenue remain." And then I also saw an April 1895 article about a request for a fire hydrant at the corner of Lyons St. and Odin Ave. I also noted that Bishop Odin came from Lyons, France.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I was kid growing up in east Texas in the 40s and 50s, blacks were allowed into the movie houses, but they had to come in through a side door and they had to sit in the balcony. I think that was also the practice at most Houston area theaters.

Looking back on that from 50 and 60 years later it's hard to believe that could go on, but that's just the way things were.

Blacks having to sit in the balcony in movie theaters was a common practice in cities and towns and practiced segregation. It may be hard for you to believe things like that went on, but it all depends on your point of view. It isn't difficult for me to comprehend as I have family members who had to endure living under those conditions. Some of them didn't accept that that was "just the way things were," and fought against segregation, a few paying very dearly in order to bring down those barriers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Blacks having to sit in the balcony in movie theaters was a common practice in cities and towns and practiced segregation. It may be hard for you to believe things like that went on, but it all depends on your point of view. It isn't difficult for me to comprehend as I have family members who had to endure living under those conditions. Some of them didn't accept that that was "just the way things were," and fought against segregation, a few paying very dearly in order to bring down those barriers.

And those that were "uppity" helped create the societal conditions for their descendants to be "yuppity" if they want. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And those that were "uppity" helped create the societal conditions for their descendants to be "yuppity" if they want. :)

Agree! Those that were "uppity" created the social conditions for their descendants to choose to be "yuppity" or "buppity" if they wanted. On the other hand, some of the "uppity" folks, but in my opinion not enough, encouraged their progeny not to succumb to the negative aspects of "yuppiness" or "buppiness" --pursuing the dream minus self-absorption, greed, lack of social conscience, excessive consumption or without regard to those left behind. Thankfully, my "uppity" family members encouraged proficiency and achievement minus the negative aspects of "buppiness" :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe that Odin Street and Lyons Avenue are one and the same.
There is still a small section (about 1/2 block long) of Odin Street on the map.
The name change appears to have occurred in the late 1800's. Marks Hinton, in his book on Houston street names, says that it occurred in 1894, and that the original Odin St. (now Lyons) and current Odin St. (in the Third Ward) were named after Bishop Odin of the Diocese of Galveston (named bishop in 1847). Lyons, on the other hand, he says refers to John Lyons, who had a saloon on Odin/Lyons.I found a March 13, 1894 newspaper article referencing a petition signed by John Lyons and other Fifth-Ward residents asking that "Lyons avenue be opened to Odin avenue, and that the name of Lyons avenue remain." And then I also saw an April 1895 article about a request for a fire hydrant at the corner of Lyons St. and Odin Ave. I also noted that Bishop Odin came from Lyons, France.
Thanks for this info. It appears that the Washington Theater was located on the small section of Odin Street that remained.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Agree! Those that were "uppity" created the social conditions for their descendants to choose to be "yuppity" or "buppity" if they wanted. On the other hand, some of the "uppity" folks, but in my opinion not enough, encouraged their progeny not to succumb to the negative aspects of "yuppiness" or "buppiness" --pursuing the dream minus self-absorption, greed, lack of social conscience, excessive consumption or without regard to those left behind. Thankfully, my "uppity" family members encouraged proficiency and achievement minus the negative aspects of "buppiness" :)

This thread need not turn into a discourse on race-based class structures or 'yuppieism.' Can we stick to the subject, specifically, the Washington Theater? Everybody knows that Houston enforced Jim Crow laws on local businesses until the 1960s. What is somewhat surprising in this one example is that it seems to demonstrate that there existed a white audience for black stage shows in Houston as early as 1925.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Everyone please see topic "Little Pearl Harbor".

This is the area the Washington Theater was in or very close to. I passed down the street the other day and I think the building (theater) is still there. It has been remodeled into a house of worship or something. Unless someone has knowledge of it being leveled? This area is very alive with local residents and hospital down the street and more.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • The title was changed to Washington Theater At 2711 Odin Ave.

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...