Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmark Series, Part One-Cleveland Metro

Now that we’re in the slow part of the RRHOF year, it’s a good time to take on some of those esoteric related topics that can be so much fun. While everyone else’s eyes have been on the Barclays Center, I’ve been dithering away on Google Street View looking at a bunch of old buildings.

(And incidentally, I’m still on the Earth Station One Podcast–this week’s topic is Record Store Day http://esopodcast.com/podcasts/earth-station-one-podcast/

When you think of any Hall of Fame you naturally think in terms of the roster of names enshrined (or not). A lot of people probably don’t know that songs are recognized by the Rock Hall in the form of the list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,” and likely even fewer know that the Hall has its own version of the National Register of Historic Places, known as the Landmark Series.

Like pretty much everything about the Hall, the Landmarks program is a fascinating but sometimes baffling and inconsistent undertaking that combines sense and vision with some odd choices and strange omissions.

Since 1986, 11 Rock and Roll Landmarks have been designated by the RRHOF (one under the guise of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association). One of them is a cultural institution; the other 10 are physical locations. Of these, nine are current or former building sites, five of which are located in the Cleveland metro area, three of which are also included in the National Register, and one is the disputed location of a mythological event.

First, we’ll look at the five landmarks in the Cleveland metro area; next time, we’ll take a scenic tour of the U.S.

  1. Brooklyn High School, 9200 Biddulph Road, Brooklyn, OH (designated 1998)

On October 20, 1955, a weekday afternoon “music assembly” organized by Cleveland DJ Bill Randle took place in the auditorium of Brooklyn High School on Cleveland’s west side. Appearing were Bill Haley and the Comets, Priscilla Wright, the Four Lads and Pat Boone. Rounding out the bill was an unknown 20-year-old performer from Tupelo, MS, named Elvis Presley, and this—his first performance north of the Mason-Dixon line—was seen by about 600 students, faculty and members of the Brooklyn High School PTA.

The show was also the first of Presley’s appearances to be professionally filmed, and the film itself became a side note in rock history: shot for use as part of a documentary on Randle, the footage disappeared and Randle eventually sold the rights. To date it has never been shown, and its whereabouts are unknown although rumor holds that it’s in the vaults at Universal.

In 1958 Brooklyn High School relocated to a new building adjacent to its old one, with the junior high moving into the space. In 2005 there was a reunion concert to mark the 50th anniversary of the show and in 2015 the 60th anniversary was marked by “Elvis Day,” with the BHS Jazz Ensemble playing Presley tunes at the Board of Education meeting. The King lives on, baby.

An account of the show from Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore’s site: http://scottymoore.net/brooklynoh.html

From “Rock and Roll and the Cleveland Connection” by Deanna R. Adams (highly recommended for rock history buffs) http://bit.ly/2of4WTC

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This is the newer addition of the school; the older high school building and auditorium are behind it; see the Scotty Moore link above for images.

  1. Corner Tavern, 78th at Cedar Ave., Cleveland, OH (designated 2002)

 The clearly intimate space known as the Corner Tavern “Opened in 1953 with many local artists. In 1963, began booking such national acts as Jimmy McGriff, J.J. Johnson, Ramsey Lewis, Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine. Burned down in 1965.” – Joe Mosbrook, “Jazzed in Cleveland” (Cleveland.oh.us)

That’s about all you’ll find for this place anywhere online. Trying to find more, I reached out to the RRHOF on Facebook, and they kindly responded almost immediately to let me know the curatorial team would look into it. True to their word, they got back to me within 48 hours, citing the quote above.

This one’s a head scratcher. Cleveland has a rich history of jazz clubs, many of which attracted top talent, and the Corner Tavern doesn’t seem to merit special mention among them. While I don’t discount the importance of jazz or its impact on rock history, I can’t make any compelling connection to it from this venue. The fact that the Hall cited the same quote that I found tells me they’re not sure either. The answer’s probably to be found in all that verbiage on the plaque that you can’t make out from the photos.

There is currently a Corner Tavern in Cleveland, but it doesn’t appear to have any connection–just one of thousands of “Corner Taverns” across the country.  

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  1. Leo’s Casino, 7500 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH (designated 1999)

The original Leo’s was a jazz club located on 49th and Central Ave. that burned down in 1962. Co-owner Leo Frank started over again with Leo’s Casino on Euclid Ave. in 1963, and was soon featuring R&B and comedy in addition to jazz, performed for a racially mixed audience. Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, Redd Foxx, Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor all graced the Casino’s stage during its decade-long run. Otis Redding made his final stage appearance here in 1967, between a taping of “Upbeat” at WEWS up the street and boarding that flight to Madison, WI on another doomed Beechcraft.

The club closed in 1972, but a number of its former stars came to Cleveland for the RRHOF Landmark designation in 1999, gathering in a vacant lot on the site as many of them reminisced about their affection for the club and for Frank. Two weeks later, Leo Frank passed away.

 An Aldi’s supermarket now occupies the site. Reportedly the HOF plaque was stolen during its construction in 2005; Aldi’s let the Hall know it would be happy to install a replacement and the Hall indicated that it was “committed to finding and restoring or replacing it…It’s our objective that this historic place be remembered.…” From what I could find, the plaque has yet to be replaced. 

http://rhythmandblueshof.com/leos-casino/

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(Photo, inset: rhythmandblueshof.com)

  1. WEWS TV-5, 3001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH (designated 2000)

 “This show was a hit from day one. Everything associated with the show played a part in making Cleveland the center of the world when it came to rock and roll.” – Don Webster

In August of 1964, “The Big 5 Show,” later known as “Upbeat”, premiered on WEWS-TV Channel 5, airing Saturday afternoons at 5 p.m. with a recipe of top pop acts mixed with local DJs and bands.

Within a year of its premiere it was syndicated in over 100 U.S. cities. The Upbeat Dancers debuted the dance steps that were copied across the country, and the show provided early exposure for new acts like Simon and Garfunkel, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and Little Stevie Wonder. (Many of these artists squeezed in an appearance at Leo’s Casino while in town). It also provided the last TV appearance of Otis Redding, taped the day of the plane crash that took his life.

Over the course of its run, the show featured several local “house bands.” One of them, the Grasshoppers, featured a 17-year-old rhythm guitar player named Benjamin “Benny Eleven Letters” Orzechowski, who later gained fame as Benjamin Orr, bassist and vocalist of the Cars.

“Upbeat” preceded—and survived—shows like Shindig and Hullabaloo, with a run that lasted until 1971. When WEWS was designated an RRHOF Landmark, a reunion concert was held at the Hall featuring Mitch Ryder, Gary Puckett, Freda Payne, Ben E. King and others–broadcast live one last time on WEWS Channel 5.

(The Ohio state historical marker to the left of the front door is dedicated to Dorothy Fuldheim, a fixture in Cleveland for over 60 years and the first woman to anchor a television news show and to host her own show. With Jane Scott achieving national fame as one of the first rock journalists over at the Plain Dealer, Cleveland has been \not just a great place for rock and roll, but also a great place for women in journalism). 

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(Photo, inset: The Grasshoppers backing up Paul Anka on “Upbeat”: Benjamin Orzechowski, Jerry Zadar, and Louie Pratile (drummer Sid Turner not pictured) Photo: George Shuba)

  1. WJW Building, 1375 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH (designated circa 1986; district added to National Register 1978)

It’s a well-known story and the foundation for Cleveland’s claim as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll: WJW’s Alan Freed playing R&B for a largely white teen audience, calling it “rock and roll”, and putting on the rock concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball in 1952.

The building that once housed Alan Freed’s Moondog House Party is now the Idea Center, an educational, performance and broadcasting space in Cleveland’s Playhouse Square District.

K. Michael Benz was president of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association and instrumental in bringing the Hall to Cleveland in 1986. For all intents and purposes, this is the Hall’s first designation.

Here’s the first reference to the music as “rock ‘n’ roll” on the day of the Coronation Ball, March 21, 1952:

http://www.theosgoodfile.com/2016/03/21/03-21-16-825-am-the-first-ever-rock-n-roll-show/

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(Photo: Jurinnov.com)

Next time: road trip

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7 thoughts on “Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmark Series, Part One-Cleveland Metro

  1. Interesting, especially the Elvis thing. But hmm, the overemphasis on Cleveland is puzzling. I mean, I get that the Hall is there and I get that you’re going on the road for other sites. But if there are only 11 landmarks does anybody outside the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce really believe almost half of them are in Cleveland? I’m kinda not buying it here.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Cleveland boosterism IMHO. I imagine any other city would have done it to some extent. I’m from Philly originally and so, could make a compelling argument for that city having gotten the nod. But, c’est la vie.

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  2. Ok, so yes, I’m one of those annoying, “why have The Cars and The Moody Blues have thus far been left out” people. But they could simple expand the list of inductees to 8 or something like that. It would help. They could also break it up into eras. The era of Jan and Ben is over and is now being ruled by an equally egocentric group of idiots that nearly ignores the fans. Then again, I can’t stand Bon Jovi, and they are currently in the first place of the fan vote…egads. I’d love to see The Smiths get in…but not until after some of the old timers.

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    1. Oh, they definitely should expand the classes-10 would be good. But the ceremony would be a marathon, so…. Jann and Gus are selling off RS but plan to stay around (don’t know how that will work), but I’m not aware what part if any Ben plays in the workings of the Hall. People still complain about “blackballs” but the truth is that the Hall has swung very populist in the past few years; several big fan choices have gotten in recently and that’s going to continue this year with Bon Jovi and the Moodies. I predicted the Smiths this year; not sure why they can’t get any traction.

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