San Diego history: The Douglas Hotel, also known as the ‘Harlem of the West’

The hotel was built in 1924 at 206 Market St. and offered quality accommodations and entertainment for Black visitors in San Diego during the segregation era.

A group of Black entertainers pose in front of the Douglas Hotel in downtown San Diego in the 1930s wearing suits and headpieces.

Entertainers pose in front of the Douglas Hotel and Creole Palace nightclub in downtown San Diego.

Photo via Guy Sensor + San Diego History Center

Next time you’re walking along Market Street and Second Avenue in downtown San Diego, look down. On the walkway at 206 Market St. you’ll spot a bronze plaque that pays tribute to the Douglas Hotel — a big piece of local Black history.

Though the building itself was torn down in 1985 to make way for downtown development, the hotel’s legacy stands firmly. Let’s take it from the top.

The Douglas Hotel was built in 1924 for local businessman and community leader George Ramsey, who partnered with couple Robert and Mabel Rowe to run the business venture.

According to historians, the Douglas became the only major downtown San Diego hotel to offer quality lodging for Black patrons during the segregation era.

The owners of the Douglas Hotel in San Diego pose for a photo while sitting in front of nightclub employees dressed in black and white tuxedos.

The owners of the Douglas Hotel — sitting in the front row — with employees from the Creole Palace in downtown San Diego.

Photo via Guy Sensor + San Diego History Center

In its heyday, it offered 45 rooms and amenities like a bar, restaurant, card room, barbershop, billiards room, and dry cleaners.

Its main attraction, however, was a 500-capacity ballroom-turned-cabaret called the Creole Palace, which featured its own house band, robust jazz entertainment, and risqué chorus line show.

The site — nicknamed the “Harlem of the West” — became the premier Black entertainment venue on the Pacific coast. Over the years, it attracted performers like Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, and the Mills Brothers.

While many Black visitors saw the hotel as a welcoming, safe haven, it wasn’t without controversy. Some felt uneasy about its location within SD’s infamous Stingaree District, an area known for illicit activities.

A bronze plaque on a street in downtown San Diego details the significance of the city's former Douglas Hotel.

Today, you can spot the bronze plaque at Market Street and Second Avenue where the Douglas Hotel once stood.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Robert Rowe died shortly after the hotel opened and Ramsey married Mabel Rowe in 1927. The couple divorced in 1939, and Mabel Rowe operated the Douglas until she sold it in 1956.

Ramsey — affectionately known as the “Mayor of San Diego’s Harlem of the West” — died on Jan. 20, 1963, and was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

By the late 1970s, the hotel had fallen into disrepair, and was demolished a few years later. The dedication plaque was installed in 2005.

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