The Deuces St. Petersburg Times Interactive Special Report
Map & timeline
22nd Streetscape
Geech's Bar-B-Q
The Manhattan
The music
Mr. & Mrs. Wiggins
Yate's Barber shop
Linset Family Tree
Moving away
Multimedia requires the free Flash Player 5+ and QuickTime Player 5+.
[Times photo: Jamie Francis]
John “Geech” Black owned the community’s best-known barbecue stand. He operated at several spots; this photo is of the one at 802 22nd St. S. As far back as 1930, Black was cooking barbecue, at first in front of a grocery store he owned on Fairfield and 22nd Street. He used a steel barrel cut in half. Black, who never divulged his recipe, sold Geech’s in 1973. The new owner kept the restaurant’s name and moved across 22nd Street when Interstate 275 came through in the late 1970s. Even now, folks along 22nd Street, like these domino players in February 2002, will stop what they are doing when they see this old picture and reminisce about the food, Geech and the times they had sitting at his stand.

Albert Thornton talks about Geech’s secret barbecue recipe. See “Geech’s Bar B-Q.” This Flash gallery requires the free Flash plug-in 5+.

Despite segregation's attitudes and barriers, the white-owned industries helped 22nd Street grow. And despite city fathers' official attempts to keep black and white businesses apart, white people helped develop The Deuces between Fifth and 15th Avenues S.

Some owned property or businesses, such as Horace Williams Jr. and Bill Boardman, who opened the Royal Theater. Others sometimes were silent partners for blacks who fronted enterprises.

Charlie Williams, the bolita boss, was a friend of Manhattan Casino promoter George Grogan. Williams had connections with the white establishment downtown, and was able to tap money to help pay big-name musicians coming to the Manhattan. (See "In and Out")

Among the earliest independent entrepreneurs were Jewish merchants who had no early foothold on downtown Central Avenue, where the Ku Klux Klan joined festival parades to spread racial and religious intolerance.

Bunnie Katz's father, David Rothblatt, was one of the first to open a grocery on 22nd Street during the 1920s.

"That's where a lot of people got started," said Mrs. Katz.

Other pioneers began their lives as slaves.

Among them was Elder Jordan Sr., born about 1850. He married Mary Frances Strobles from Rosewood, a tall, pipe-smoking Cherokee whose dark hair tumbled below her waist. Soon after 1900, the family came to St. Petersburg, where Jordan built his own business empire.

A tall, imposing figure who wore a cowboy hat, black pants, a work shirt with vest and soft shoes he could roll up in his hand, Jordan became 22nd Street's first prominent black developer.

Descendants say he had a successful north Florida farm before coming to St. Petersburg.

Here he accumulated property, sometimes bidding on tax deeds with borrowed money, old-timers say. He built houses and rooming halls on 22nd and down the side streets. He helped open other businesses and cleared land.

William Jordan, who lived in St. Petersburg as a youngster, remembers his grandfather as an entrepreneur.

"I recall riding aboard a horse cart going through the swamp, men carrying axes. They had high-laced boots to protect them against diamondbacks. My grandfather had a filling station, a Ferris wheel, a dance hall, a restaurant."

Elder Jordan built a dance hall and store that would become legendary on the 600 block as the Manhattan Casino. It wasn't a gambling hall; the fanciful name referred to the building's upstairs ballroom.

The man who molded it was George Grogan, a dapper promoter. He had lived in New York City and had connections there.

A compact man usually dressed to the nines, Grogan was from Winston-Salem, N.C. After college, he went to the big city to study mortuary science, said Ira Harding Wilson, a longtime friend.

Grogan got to know Ben Bart, who had the Universal Attractions agency in New York. Eventually, said Wilson, Grogan took over Florida bookings. Big-name musical personalities would play smaller cities on the "chitlin circuit" between bookings in larger markets. (An in-depth look at the Manhattan Casino, this Flash gallery requires the free Flash Player 5+.)

Grogan's complex personality led him to promote the Manhattan's adults-only nightlife while teaching youngsters chemistry at Gibbs High. He also found time to manage Jordan Park and sell real estate.

"If you wanted to make money, George Grogan would tell you how to do it. He was a born promoter," Wilson said.

Supplying another key element at the Manhattan was radio personality Goldie Thompson, whose trademark advertising slogan was "Tell 'em Goldie sent ya!" Thompson booked into the Manhattan the era's best gospel singers.

Downstairs, the building's separate storefronts added business to the mix. Customers spilled over to other businesses along the strip.

"That was one of the beauties of 22nd Street, because it was the one place in town where you didn't feel the pressure of being a black person, being segregated, treated differently or looked at differently," Rosalie Peck said. "It was home."

* * *

Page 4   Page 6
  © Copyright 2002 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.