During the World War I years, Pennsylvania Avenue emerged as Baltimore's African-American entertainment midway. "The Avenue" was lined with speakeasies and small clubs, but its centerpiece was the Royal Theatre. The Royal, a stage and movie palace on the same booking circuit as New York's Apollo and Washington's Howard Theatres, stood in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania until 1970.
Just a few blocks from the Royal, Billie's mother opened a restaurant at 1325 Argyle Avenue called "The East Side Grille". Apparently it was in a "real fancy house" where, as Billie remarked in Lady Sings The Blues, "we were going to live like ladies and everything would be fine".
It was probably during her stay on Argyle Avenue that Billie ran errands at a whorehouse in exchange for hearing Louis Armstrong on the parlor victrola and first sang in neighborhood clubs. However, restaurant work was brutally hard and not very lucrative. Billie's mother soon removed to Harlem and sent for her in 1929. Although she returned to play the Royal as a star, Billie did not live in Baltimore after age 13.
Today most of the once-proud Argyle Avenue rowhouses are empty.1325 is now a vacant lot. It was likely similar to the houses on the opposite side of the street (left). Billie may once have washed the Baltimore-trademark marble stoop of the house on the left. As a young girl, she scrubbed steps all over Baltimore at 5 to 15 cents per stoop.
The Pennsylvania Avenue entertainment strip has deteriorated badly since the 1950s (below). Billie Holiday's Pennsylvania Avenue connection is commemorated by a rather grotesque larger-than-life statue between Lafayette and Lanvale Streets. low