While there are no photographs
known of Joplin's rooming house at 2840 Armour Avenue, similar
buildings in the same neighborhood are shown in this picture
taken for social reformer Edith Abbott's book, The Tenements
of Chicago, published in 1936; the full plate is titled "Negro
Homes on the South Side."
The actual building located at 2900 State
Street reasonably matches Blesh and Janis' sketchy description
of Marshall's quarters. Although no photographs of the building
have been found, existing records indicate that it was a three
story brick building planned with a store on the ground floor
and apartments above. The building, however, was not unique to
State Street, which was lined for blocks with similar buildings
combining commercial and residential space. The buildings had
been largely built in the 1870s and 80s by white families, who
began to leave the neighborhood as African American families
began to move to the area in the 1890s.
At the time Joplin and Marshall lived in the neighborhood, State
Street was a busy commercial street catering to the area's black
community. A wide variety of stores lined the street, with a
high concentration of saloons often three or four to a
block. White proprietors owned many of the businesses and saloons,
but there was an increasing presence of black owned businesses
as well. Joplin and Marshall undoubtedly were well acquainted
with Robert T. Motts' Pekin saloon, located two blocks north
of Philip Gomb's place. The Pekin was considered to be a model
of African American business achievement, especially after it
was expanded into a regular theater in March 1906. The Pekin's
musical director was Joe Jordan, one of Joplin and Marshall's
friends from their St. Louis days.
The most specific reference to where Scott
Joplin lived while in Chicago is his inclusion in the 1906 city
directory which shows him at 2840 Armour Avenue, a location two
blocks west of Philip Gomb's saloon. No evidence has been found
to indicate exactly when Joplin moved to this address, but he
certainly was there sometime between May and July 1906 when the
data for the Chicago directory was compiled. Interestingly, Joplin
also appears in the 1906 edition of the St. Louis city directory,
which had a similar compilation period to its Chicago counterpart.
This dual listing suggests that Joplin was in Chicago, but returned
to St. Louis sometime within the May-to-July directory compilation
period for both cities.
What kind of accommodations did the "King
of Ragtime" have at 2840 Armour Avenue? Evidence strongly
suggests that they were less than satisfactory ...
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