Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.
Ann Montgomery, 1889 - 1978
This biography was originally released on February 26, 2021 as a part of our on going series titled: Vibrant Lives. Vibrant Stories.
Written by the Staff of The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission
Born in 1889 in Americus, Georgia, Ann Montgomery would spend her early years bouncing around the country with her family. She attended school in Los Angeles, California and spent some time in Texas before settling in Buffalo in 1910.
Shortly after arriving in the Queen City, Montgomery opened an ice cream parlor at 496 Michigan Ave. At some point she married another famous Buffalo business owner, Dan Montgomery who had owned Dan Montgomery's Steakhouse on Exchange Street and another hotel located near Central Terminal.
Over the years, Montgomery’s location on Michigan Ave would undergo several business changes— briefly becoming a billiards hall in 1922, a suppers club in 1929, and finally the Little Harlem Hotel and nightclub in 1934. The nightclub was a popular spot for both locals and visitors to Buffalo and attracted quite a lineup of artists. Some of the more famous performers included those like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Bing Crosby, Vincent Lopez, Cab Calloway, and Dinah Washington.
The Little Harlem was listed in every edition of the “Negro Motorist Green Book" that included Buffalo. The book was a travel guide published from the 1930s-1960s and listed safe businesses for African-American travelers to lodge, eat, and patronize during the segregation era. The Montogmery's owned another hotel, called The Montogmery, located at 486 Michigan that was also listed in the Green Book.
A savvy businesswoman, Montogomery was welcoming to all visitors. In addition to opening her doors to both blacks and whites, Mrs. Montogmery also let it be known that her hotel was a safe space for the LGBTQ communities during a time when it was rare to find such a welcoming place.
Montgomery was both an accomplished businesswoman and an important community advocate. She was a member of the Buffalo Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Michigan Avenue YMCA. She was known to donate to many civic organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club, the Salvation Army, and the United Way of Buffalo.
Montgomery passed away in 1978 after a career that spanned almost seventy years. After her death Ann’s second husband, Paul Dilworth Woodson, who had managed the club for thirty-three years prior to his wife's death, continued to run the Little Harlem Hotel until his retirement.
The building was then sold to former City Court Judge Wilbur Trammell.
The Little Harlem Hotel burned down in February 1993.
The Commission hopes to create something in the future to pay homage to the rich history of The Little Harlem Hotel. Please consider joining our upcoming meetings to give suggestions on how we can best revitalize this rich history.
Thank you to our sources...
You can read more about Montgomery in Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold's multiple articles about her on Uncrowned Community Builders and Buffalo Rising. All photo's courtesy of the Buffalo Public Library's Little Harlem Collection and the Buffalo History Museum.
The Buffalo News also has many great articles and resources that talk about Montgomery, such as this one from 1993, when the Hotel burned down, this one from 2015, and their most recent article that was coincidentally published just a couple of days before the release of this newsletter! A special thank you to Steve Cichon, who authored many of these sources.
Do you have an idea of who we should include in our series?