It Happened Here: Leo’s Casino become Cleveland’s Motown Venue


Ever wonder where so many historical events happened around town? Or how Cleveland history helped shape the country’s larger history? This academic year, Teaching Cleveland is on a quest to uncover some hidden history gems for you – places where events took place that helped influence this unique community and beyond. And hey – if you didn’t know about any of these, don’t kick yourself! These are places that have little to no historical information telling anyone anything about it.

It Happened Here: Leo’s Casino becomes Cleveland’s Motown Venue
What? A night club and hotel that served as magnet for major Motown artists
Where? 7500 Euclid Avenue (now the site of an Aldi’s grocery store)

In Cleveland during the 1960s and early 1970s, if the emerging superstars from Motown were coming to Cleveland – they were likely going to play at Leo’s Casino. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, topping the incredible list of performers to play at Leo’s were Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, John Coltrane, the Temptations and the Four Tops. Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin gave some of their first performances there, and Otis Redding actually made his last stage appearance at the club prior to his fatal plane crash the next day. The club also provided a springboard for a number of comedians such as Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, and Redd Foxx.

The club was such a draw that even during the Hough Uprising in July 1966, hundreds of fans waited in line to see the Supremes just blocks away from the chaos that was unfolding. Leo’s Lounge also drew fans of all races – so much so that comedian and activist Dick Gregory once called it  “the most fully integrated nightclub in America.”

In 1952, Leo Frank first opened a bar and eventually a jazz room called Leo’s on East 49th and Central Avenue. In 1962, that building burned down, so Leo Frank and his partner Jules Berger opened up Leo’s Casino, a larger venue at the old Quad Hall Hotel at 7500 Euclid Avenue. The new space could accommodate 700 people, and soon after they opened the new place, jazz began to give way to increasingly popular R&B acts. For the next nine years, Leo’s Casino drew nationally famous acts. As the names and reputations of those performers grew, they realized they could command much larger sums of money at even bigger venues. By 1970, Frank sold his share of the club to his partner, who closed the venue two years later in 1972.

Interestingly, after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum came to Cleveland, it dedicated in 1999 a plaque at the former site of Leo’s Casino as a way to honor the place as an historical rock landmark. At the time, the site was a vacant lot. In 2005, construction began on an Aldi’s grocery store where Leo’s once stood – and while under construction, the sign disappeared. While the marker may be gone now, certainly many older Clevelanders still remember seeing some of the most famous acts in music history perform at 75th and Euclid Avenue in the early days of rock ‘n roll.

For more information, check out Cleveland Historical.



* indicates required

Intuit Mailchimp

Contact Us