Phenomenal San Diego women in business


Mabel Rowe operated the Creole Palace.

Mabel Rowe

(Courtesy of the San Diego History Center)

George Ramsey, the so-called “Mayor of San Diego’s Harlem,” partnered with race horse owner Robert Rowe to build the Douglas Hotel in 1924 at Second Avenue and Market Street. But when Rowe died suddenly of heart trouble a few months later, his wife, Mabel, stepped in to co-manage the hotel and its nightclub. She lived in her own suite, draped herself in jewelry and ran her own bordello, Leroy’s Room, nearby. She married Ramsey in 1927 and the club became the Creole Palace, “The Harlem of the West,” downtown’s top cabaret. Major Black stars played and stayed overnight at the Douglas — including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and San Diego’s own Fro Brigham, who also managed the club. By the time Ramsey and Rowe divorced in 1940, she had become something of a legend. Police raided her establishment several times and in 1939 her Pekinese dog Bubbles awakened her when a fire broke out. “Grabbing her pet, Mrs. Ramsey ran to the ground floor and notified the fire department,” a news report said. A thriving hot spot during World War II, it began to lose its luster a few years later, and Rowe sold the building in 1956. She disappeared from local records and the building made way for an apartment building in the 1980s.

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