East 9th Street Pier has long been a center for pleasure, initially as the principal Cleveland dock for passenger ships that plied Lake Erie. Later, during the 1960s, the Pier became home to a popular local restaurant, Captain Frank’s. Today, it is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Goodtime III excursion boat.
The archives of the Cleveland Call & Post reveal that many cruises in the twilight years of passenger ships on the Great Lakes, during the mid 20th century, were arranged by African American organizations.
“Moonlight Cruises” on Lake Erie were a popular pastime, as part of a larger tradition of such cruises in the African American community. These nighttime cruises catered to African American workers who worked during the day, allowing them to go on family outings. The boats ran from East 9th Street Pier in Cleveland to Cedar Point, leaving at 8:30 p.m. “Breakfast Cruises,” which ran during the day, were also available.
African American organizations would often book these cruises for special events, such as graduation parties. Cruises featured local and nationally famous celebrities such as Marva Louis, wife of boxer Joe Louis, and Caesar Dameron, the saxophonist older brother of famous jazz composer and pianist Tadd Dameron.
During World War II, cruises were run by the S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. The S.S. Theodore Roosevelt was a 287 ft steamship built in 1906, operated in the late 1940s first by the Cleveland & Cedar Point Steamship and later by the Detroit and Cleveland Steamship Company. She was sold for scrap in 1950.
After the war, the S.S. Alabama took over the run. The S.S. Alabama was a 275 ft steamship built in 1909, and was operated by the Georgian Bay Line. Ticket sales were handled by the Cleveland & Buffalo Transit Company. The ship spent most of the summer of 1946 cruising out of Cleveland, often booked by African American community organizations.
Cleveland played an important role in the life of the S.S. Alabama. Her last sailing of the season from Cleveland, on September 2, 1946, would mark the end of her career as a passenger steamship. She was then sold and made into a barge, which was later scrapped in 2005.
As the excursion steamers passed into history, Captain Frank’s Seafood House restaurant became the pier’s new attraction in the 1950s. The restaurant was owned by Frank Visconti, a local businessman who had previously run a fish market. Popular amongst locals, the restaurant was however reflective of the racial turbulent times. The Call & Post reported an incident in which a waitress named “Miss Rochelle” employed at the restaurant refused to serve African American labor leaders Chester J. Gary and his wife Francis Shauter-Gary anywhere but the lunch counter. It was an incident that blurred the line between personal prejudice and institutional racism, since the woman was acting as a representative of the company although expressing her own racist views. As a result of numerous complaints, The City Law Department, by direction of Councilman John W. Kellogg, investigated. Allegations of discrimination threatened the restaurant’s lease on the pier, which was at the time owned by the city of Cleveland. This had made the construction of the restaurant controversial in the first place. As a result of public outcry, Captain Frank’s appointed a new manager, and expressed a desire to avoid further incidents. However, disciplinary action for the waitress was limited, she was transferred to cashier duties.
In 1984, Visconti died, and in 1985 work by North Coast Harbor Inc. began to redevelop the pier area. Today, the area is host to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the Goodtime III tour boat, continuing the legacy of the pier as part of the recreational landscape of the city of Cleveland.
- “East 9th St Pier” Lakeshore Rail Maps https://www.lakeshorerailmaps.com/e9stpier.html
- “Captain Frank’s Lobster House” Cleveland Historical https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/901
- “Alabama.” Marine Historical Society of Detroit. https://web.archive.org/web/20190912211603/https://www.mhsd.org/passenger/alabama.htm.
- “The Bartenders and Barmaids presents a Breakfast Dance Cruise.” Call & Post. August 3, 1946.
- “Breakfast Dance, Cruise Aboard the S.S. Alabama.” Advertisement. Call & Post. August 3, 1946.
- “Captain Gets New ‘Mate’ for Pier Restaurant.” Call & Post. December 4, 1954
- Colombi, Chris, and Joe Mosbrook. “Jazz.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. https://case.edu/ech/articles/j/jazz.
- “A Graduation Boat Ride Monday Night June 18th aboard the S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.” Call & Post. June 9, 1945.
- “It Smells Fishy: Negroes Charge Jim Cro in Lakefront Restaurant.” Call & Post. November 20, 1954.
- “Ladies Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Boat Ride.” Call & Post, July 20, 1946.
- “Last Ride of The Season: Breakfast Dance Cruise Aboard S.S. Alabama.” Call & Post. August 31, 1946.
- “Marva Louis,” Encyclopedia of Alabama. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/m-5035.
- “Moonlight Dance, Boat Ride.” Call & Post. August 19, 1944.
- “Moonlight Boat Ride In Honor National Dental Association.” Call & Post. August 5, 1944.
- “National Alliance of Postal Employees Present A Moonlight Cruise.” Call & Post, July 13, 1946.
- “The Regal Sports Presents a Marva Louis Boat Ride.” Call & Post. July 27, 1946.
- “Theodore Roosevelt (ID 1478).” Nav Source Online: Identification Numbered Ships Photo Archive. http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/171478.htm.