Doan’s Corners: Cleveland’s ‘second downtown’ in the early 20th Century

In the early 20th Century, the area near the corner of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue was a thriving pocket of activity. Arts and entertainment establishments were opening in the area known as Doan’s Corners—earning it the nickname “Cleveland’s Second Downtown.”

It all began in the 18th Century when, in 1798, Connecticut native and blacksmith Nathaniel Doan moved his wife and six children to settle on lots he received after the second surveying expedition of the Western Reserve for the Connecticut Land Company.

The area at the time was mostly farmland speckled with a few country estates.

After Doan settled with his family, he built a log hotel, general store, baking soda factory, and tavern at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street. He also operated his blacksmith shop and other businesses while the area quickly developed with shopping, theaters, nightclubs, and restaurants—earning the name Doan’s Corners.

Doan went on to be civically engaged in the developing city. He served as a justice of the peace, postmaster, and a clergyman. He was elected first lieutenant of Cleveland’s first military company in 1804 and was named captain the following year. He was a town clerk, and in 1809 Doan became an associate judge of Cuyahoga County.

Looking east up Euclid Avenue from E105th St in 1915Looking east up Euclid Avenue from E105th St in 1915By the early 1900s, Doan’s Corners was considered a top destination—both locally and nationally—as an entertainment hotspot that launched the careers of top vaudeville performers and other acts of the day. Streetcars brought locals from all over Cleveland to the district.

The area continued to thrive for the next 60 years with theaters and music venues coming and going. The area hosted well-known performers such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Harry Belafonte—just to name a few.

The beginning of the 20th Century prompted the construction of more notable venues like the Alhambra Theatre. The 1920s brought Keith’s 105th Street Theater, which in later years hosted the likes of Bob Hope (who had frequented the theater as a child growing up in Cleveland) and Bing Crosby. The Alhambra was demolished in 1976, while Keith’s was destroyed in 1967.

The Circle Theater also opened in 1920 and hosted alternating stage shows and films. Originally named the Hoffman after the theater’s creators Clara and Graham Hoffman, The Circle operated under several owners and managers over the years. The final iteration became a music venue that alternated between different styles of music in the 1950s—providing the stage for Elvis’ first two Cleveland performances. The Circle lasted until 1959 and was razed shortly after closing.

In 1951, Towne Casino opened and quickly earned a reputation for being a “mixed” club during the dawn of racial tensions in the Hough neighborhood—openly welcoming patrons of all races. The club was bombed three times in its short life and closed in 1953.

The 1966 Hough uprising brought about the end of the already waning Doan’s Corners. Real estate developer Winston E. Willis, who founded University Circle Properties Development, Inc., bought most of neighborhood properties in the late 1960s, and operated several adult-oriented businesses as well as several conventional businesses under his development company—including the Scrumpy Dump Cinema and Winston's Place Fine Dining. He managed the block of businesses through his development company.  

Willis eventually went to jail over his legal battles with the city and in the early 1980s, nearly all of Willis's properties were demolished to make way for the 1982 William O. Walker Center—officially brining an end to Doan’s Corners.  

Dedicated to Dan Ruminski, “The Cleveland Storyteller. March 18, 1944-July 25, 2023.

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Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.