Photography by George Cassidy Payne
“Clarissa Street is one of Corn Hill’s most historic and oft-changed streets. Originally named Caledonia Avenue by Corn Hill’s early Scottish settlers, in 1844 the southern portion of this street was renamed “Clarissa,” after Clarissa Greig, the daughter of early investor John Greig. Eventually the street was altered to include all of High Street, now the northern section of Clarissa, and by 1930 all of Caledonia Avenue had been renamed Clarissa Street.” (http://cornhill.org/history-of-corn-hill/clarissa-street/)
The original street was on the edge of the the Corn Hill area and extended into the Plymouth-Exchange (PLEX). It was a black neighborhood as early as the 1820’s. From that point on it grew as one of the centers for the Third Ward‘s black neighborhood.
“By the mid-20th century, Clarissa Street had become a main commercial district of the Third Ward. Businesses included the Gibson Hotel, Latimer’s Funeral Home, Ray’s Barbershop, Scotty’s Pool Hall, Smitty’s Birdland, LaRue’s Restaurant, and Vallot’s Tavern.” (https://rocwiki.org/Clarissa_Street)
Clarissa Street became famous for jazz and for clubs such as the Pythodd Club, the Elk’s Club and Dan’s Restaurant and Grill (later Shep’s Paradise Lounge – now The Clarissa Room).
Photos of jazz greats who played on Clarissa Street (taken from inside Clarissa’s)
Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.
“The Pythodd was a jazz club in the Corn Hill neighborhood that attracted big-name musicians like Pee Wee Ellis, Ray Bryant and Wes Montgomery as well as aspiring local talent like the Mangione brothers. The Clarissa Street club was a vibrant part of a thriving neighborhood, a stop on the “jazz circuit” with a scruffy façade and a bona fide bebop vibe. Crowds jammed elbow-to-elbow seemed to sway as one in harmonious jubilance, as described in a 1970 Upstate story.
“A lot of places in Rochester have music,” wrote the author, Bill O’Brien. “A lot of places are almost in darkness while the bands play. People jiggle in drinking establishments all over town … But the Pythodd has its own kind of feeling. There’s a ribs and chicken, soul, good time Charlie, hustle me baby, drink it down and shake-all-over atmosphere at the Pythodd.”
The Spirit of Clarissa Street Lives On
“In 1830 Rev. Thomas James, an escaped slave, founded the Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, then located on Favor Street. This church became a center for the Underground Railroad, for Frederick Douglass’s abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, and for the women’s suffrage movement. In 1975 the A.M.E. Zion Church was relocated to its present home on Clarissa Street, and it remains Rochester’s oldest ongoing African American institution.” (http://cornhill.org/history-of-corn-hill/clarissa-street/)
Frederick Douglass’ Church
Mt. Olivet Baptist Church from Clarissa Street
“The Clarissa Street Reunion is an annual festival that takes place in one of the most culturally rich neighborhoods in Rochester. The event celebrates a neighborhood known for producing renowned jazz musicians in the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. Clarissa Street, which is located in the southwest quadrant of Rochester and in the old 3rd Ward, was a true melting pot that brought together people of Black, Italian, Irish, and Jewish descent. Streets were cobblestone and trolley cars were a familiar sight. The Clarissa Street Reunion, held annually since 1996, is a wonderful celebration of the memories and the relationships that were formed in the neighborhood.” (http://www.cityofrochester.gov/ClarissaStreetReunion/)
Son House Memorial Plaque on Clarissa and Greig
Ain’t but one kind of blues and that consists of a male and female that’s in love.
Flying Squirrel Community Space
Architecture on Clarissa Street
It’s impossible for me to feel like there’s only one way to do a thing. There’s nothing wrong with having one way of doing it, but I think it’s a bad habit. I believe in range. Like, there’s a lot of tunes that I play all the time-sometimes I hear ’em in a different register. And if you don’t have complete freedom, or you won’t let yourself get away from that one straight line, oh, my goodness, that’s too horrible to even think about. – Wes Montgomery