Filed Under entertainment

Stanley's Tavern

Stanley Williams was a restaurateur and nightclub owner who left an indelible imprint in the Hill District and in Pittsburgh history. He and his two brothers, Alexander and Charles, had emigrated from Barbados. Stanley and Alexander Williams owned and operated the city’s first Black-owned professional sports stadium, the Central Amusement Park.

Stanley, born in 1900, was the youngest Williams brother, and arrived in Pittsburgh at age 13. According to one 1955 Pittsburgh Courier profile, he came to Pittsburgh to study dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh. Instead, he entered the entertainment and hospitality industry. Before striking out on his own, Stanley went to work with his older brothers running a pool hall in the basement of Burke’s Hall (later, the Rhumba Theater).

Between 1926 and 1933 Stanley worked as a waiter and he tried his hand running several businesses with his brother Charles and other Hill District entrepreneurs. These included a Wylie Avenue confectionary and pool hall.

In 1933, he opened Stanley’s Inn, located in rented space at 1506 Wylie Ave. Ads in the Courier touted the new cabaret as “The classiest early dawnin’ place in town” with “hot-cha music” and “delicious food.” Alvin Austin, a dentist by day and nightclub crooner by night, provided the soundtrack. “Plenty of zip and bang and rhythm,” the Courier reported “… the kind of music that goes with 3.2 [beer].”

Situated at the corner of Wylie and Fullerton, Stanley’s Inn occupied arguably the most prominent street corner in the Hill District, and one that had already proven a launching pad for another successful entrepreneur. “Lest you forget,”  Courier columnist John Clark reminded readers in 1934, “Gus Greenlee made his first venture in this spot, having purchased a five-table poolroom from Mrs. William Johnson.”

The new nightclub became one of the Hill’s most popular nighttime destinations. Stanley Williams booked local and national acts, and expanded the club’s footprint between 1933 and 1947. He rented and bought multiple adjacent properties, ultimately owning the entire southeastern corner of Wylie and Fullerton. Pioneering radio personality Mary “Mary Dee” Dudley had regular gigs in Stanleys, hosting a weekly “Celebrity Night” there starting in 1950.

Stanley’s club contributed to Wylie and Fullerton's growing reputation as the “Crossroads of the World.”The label was first applied (in print) to Wylie and Fullerton in a 1954 Courier column. “‘Crossroads of the World’ is a description applied to Fullerton and Wylie by a native Washingtonian,” wrote John Clark. “He was a visitor in Pittsburgh…shortly after the close of the second World War.” The visitor recalled patronizing an “underground place with good food and entertainment.” at the corner; indeed, one space in the basement of Stanley’s connected buildings was known as the “Subterranean Lounge.”

Like other iconic Hill District businesses, Stanley’s provided patrons with much more than dinner, dancing, and music. His entertainment complex also included a pool hall and barber shop.

Stanley’s club contributed to Wylie and Fullerton's growing reputation as the “Crossroads of the World.”

After consolidating the parcels at Wylie and Fullerton, in 1945 Stanley relocated the barber shop and pool hall to a one-story building at 1420 Wylie Ave.

Stanley Williams avoided headlines by keeping Hill District vice (mainly gambling) at bay. Occasionally, drama dropped into his nightclub and he found himself in the news for something other than good food and music. The most sensational thing to happen inside Stanley’s was the 1949 murder of Stanley’s older brother, Charles. Shortly after 10pm April 13, 1949, a patron named James Cannon became unruly. Charles was working behind the bar and asked Cannon to leave. Cannon, who had previously been convicted of murder in Maryland, returned to Stanley’s with a gun and shot Charles three times.

Gravely wounded, Charles was taken to Mercy Hospital. He died nine days later. Charles’s hastily scrawled will asked that his ashes be tossed from the Smithfield Street Bridge. Courier photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris captured Stanley fulfilling his brother’s last wishes;the photo was published in the newspaper May 7, 1949.

Just as Stanley’s was hitting its stride as the focal point in the Crossroads of the World, the city’s urban renewal plans were being finalized. The Courier, in 1951, reported that Stanley’s was to be among the first of the “Hill Landmarks to go.” Other key Hill District sites mentioned in the article were Goode’s pharmacy, the Crawford Grill No. 1, the Loendi Club, and Bethel AME Church.

Stanley’s operated in the City’s bullseye for six years. Finally, in November 1957, the city paid $88,550 ($967,593 in 2023 dollars) for the properties at 1506 Wylie Ave. and 61 and 63 Fullerton St., which included $12,000 to cover relocation costs.

In July 1958, Stanley opened his new club at 7403 Frankstown Ave. in Homewood in July 1958. Stanley’s Lounge continued to operate under his ownership until his death in 1977 at age 77. The Williams family sold the nightclub in 1978 and it has remained open under new owners since.

Images

Original Stanley’s Tavern location at 1506 Wylie Ave. Original Stanley’s Tavern location at 1506 Wylie Ave. Gus Greenlee had bought a pool hall in the M.J. Farrell Building basement in the early 1920s. Stanley acquired the business from Greenlee about five years later and he operated the pool hall until opening the nightclub in 1933.
Stanley’s lounge at the corner of Wylie Ave. and Fullerton St. This photo taken in 1955 shows the buildings where Stanley’s expanded in the 1940s. Source: Pittsburgh City Archives, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Lower Hill Development Area Property Inventories, Parcel 923, 61-65 Fullerton Street. Date: 1955
Stanley's Lounge in Homewood Present-day building housing Stanley’s Lounge at 7403 Frankstown Road in Homewood. The Williams family sold the lounge to new owners in 1978. Creator: David Rotenstein Date: 2022
Courier advertisement Ad from the Pittsburgh Courier promoting Stanley Williams' new nightclub. Source: Pittsburgh Courier Date: 1933

Metadata

David S. Rotenstein, “Stanley's Tavern,” Hill District Digital History, accessed June 17, 2024, https://hillhistory.org/items/show/51.