History of the West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
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By Gary Swilik
Rainbow Gardens opened on April 15th, 1922, and presented top quality entertainment including Austin Wylie and his nationally-broadcast jazz band, with popular musicians Vaughn Monroe, Spud Murphy and young Artie Shaw, considered one of the greatest jazz clarinetists of his time. Another Rainbow Gardens regular was Emerson Gill who made the first record ever recorded in Cleveland and had one of the most popular dance bands of the era.
In June, 1934, the all-black musical revue "Connie's Hot Chocolates" appeared at Rainbow Gardens, accompanied by a 16-musician orchestra and 50 artists direct from Harlem, New York. The group got its (now very politically incorrect) name because they performed regularly at Connie's Inn, a Harlem nightclub owned by brothers George and Connie Immerman.
With its big dance floor and 1000-person seating capacity, Rainbow Gardens was a major entertainment destination. Yet all known photos leave much of its appearance to our imagination. It looks like a few farmhouses perched on the edge of the valley. Apparently, however, there was a lot going on in those humble-looking digs.
In 1923, Cleveland Mayor Fred Kohler refused to issue Rainbow Gardens a dance permit, based on its poor moral reputation. At least one police officer was detailed to keep the Gardens under surveillance during business hours. In one instance, federal agents raided the club and confiscated 6½ barrels of beer, 6 quarts of champagne, and comparable quantities of vermouth, whiskey, gin, and ale, along with a few slot machines. In 1931, the U.S. Attorney's office instituted padlock proceedings against 34 alleged speakeasies, Rainbow Gardens among them. The club was also robbed several times. On one occasion, 5 armed men forced employees, including owner Eddie Sindelar, to face the wall while they made off with over 1500 dollars.
In 1933, the club received threatening telephone calls demanding they close. Shortly thereafter "stink bombs" were tossed into the dining room by two mysterious well-dressed men. Whether these anonymous threats brought about the club's demise is not known but Rainbow Gardens closed forever in 1934. The vacant buildings were demolished in 1936. The tract where Rainbow Gardens stood is now entirely residential. It's difficult to imagine this tranquil area as the location of a notorious jazz-age nightclub and speakeasy.
This article appeared in KAMM'S CORNERS MAGAZINE, Volume 13,, Number 2, Spring 2013.
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Updated 25 June 2014