A Place in Time spotlights a significant cultural resource - a district, site, building, structure or object - entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
Crawford Grill No. 2 operated from 1945 to 2003 on the first floor of the Sochatoff Building, still standing in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Photo, Jeff Slack, Time & Place LLC

Crawford Grill No. 2 operated from 1945 to 2003 on the first floor of the Sochatoff Building, still standing in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
Photo, Jeff Slack, Time & Place LLC

The Sochatoff Building sits at the corner of Wylie Avenue and Elmore Street in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood. This three-story building was constructed in 1917 and would later hold the nationally renowned jazz club Crawford Grill No. 2 between 1945 and 2003. The club, which occupied the entire first floor of the building, was established by African American businessman William Augustus “Gus” Greenlee (1893–1952). It later flourished under the ownership of Greenlee’s partner, Joseph Robinson, and then his son, William “Buzzy” Robinson.

The Hill District’s proximity to downtown Pittsburgh made it one of the city’s earliest residential neighborhoods. Settled first by free African Americans who established a vibrant middle-class community, the neighborhood became a diverse place with a large new immigrant population. By the 1930s it was the cultural center of African American life in Pittsburgh, with Wylie Avenue and its numerous theaters and jazz clubs at its heart.

Gus Greenlee was one of the most influential African American business owners in Pittsburgh during the first half of the 20th century. Though controversial for amassing his fortune through illegal enterprises, he made significant and lasting contributions in entertainment and sports. Greenlee used his wealth to support African Americans in his community by providing funding to purchase properties and start businesses at a time when most white-owned banks refused these services. He later purchased the Crawford Colored Giants baseball team and paid his players $125 a month. Greenlee Field, the stadium he financed to give Black ball clubs greater control over their schedules, was constructed in 1932.

Greenlee owned a number of businesses in the Hill District. In 1929 he purchased a three-story, late-19th-century brick building at 1401 Wylie Avenue that became his famed Crawford Grill (No. 1). Initially he used it as a restaurant, the Green Boot, later named the New Avenue. With the repeal of Prohibition, Greenlee seized on the opportunity to establish a more “legitimate” high-end restaurant, bar and cabaret from which he would base his various business ventures, host notable guests, and feature both local and touring entertainers and bands. He apparently selected the name Crawford Grill to help cross-promote the club and his recently purchased baseball team.

Not surprisingly, given his clout, Greenlee was reportedly the first African American in Pittsburgh to get a liquor license after Prohibition ended. Crawford Grill became one of the most popular jazz clubs in the city, catering to a wide range of clientele and drawing visitors from across the area. A key factor in differentiating his club from others was his emphasis on entertainers from New York, which made the venue distinct on the Hill. Crawford Grill No. 1 remained in business until 1951, when it was destroyed by fire. The building was demolished in 1959 as part of an urban renewal scheme that destroyed the Lower Hill.

In early 1945 Greenlee made the decision to purchase the three-story Sochatoff Building at 2141 Wylie Avenue for a second establishment, Crawford Grill No. 2. He hired popular local chef Bill Norwood to distinguish the fare from that of other clubs. Greenlee also decided to schedule regular live music and installed a raised stage midway through the venue’s main room at a height of more than 5 feet off the floor, making music the central focus. Patrons throughout the club could see and experience the performance from any seat in the house.


Postcard view of Crawford Grill No. 2, 1953.

Postcard view of Crawford Grill No. 2, 1953.

Joe Robinson proved to be as visionary and vital to the future of the club, especially when Greenlee’s health rapidly declined in late 1950. Robinson built Crawford Grill No. 2’s identity as a jazz venue, hiring local alto saxophone legend Leroy Brown and his quartet, the Brown Buddies, as the house band. His complete renovation in 1953 and his approach to selecting well-known touring jazz acts for weeklong engagements further solidified the club as a nationally famous jazz venue.

Robinson’s approach drew a socially and racially diverse audience. Patrons included blue-collar workers as well as members of Pittsburgh’s professional elite. Pirates baseball legends Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, the Kaufmanns of department store fame, and the Rooneys, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, visited. Playwright August Wilson frequented the club, and he referenced it in his play Fences.

Although many American cities had intimate jazz clubs that were part of the circuit of touring musicians, Crawford Grill No. 2 holds a particularly revered status among historians, musicians, promoters and fans. Many of the jazz world’s best musicians cut their teeth at the club, which was known for its “call and response” interactions between performers and the crowd. It was a place where emerging musicians could learn and perform with legends. In the 1950s and ‘60s, artists such as Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Dakota Staton performed there.


Ads for artists who performed at Crawford Grill No. 2 in the 1950s.

Ads for artists who performed at Crawford Grill No. 2 in the 1950s.

The club was also significant as a place of welcoming during the turmoil of segregation. It was part of the social, cultural and political landscape of Pittsburgh, and its presence was felt throughout the city.

In July 2020 Crawford Grill No. 2 was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an extant resource representing the broad contributions of a venue that served as a center of Black social life within Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood, for its significance to performing arts and Black heritage, and for the life and work of first proprietor Gus Greenlee.


Recent listings in the National Register of Historic Places include Edward Corner Marine Merchandise Warehouse, Philadelphia; Erie Masonic Temple, Erie, Erie County; R.K. Laros Silk Mill, Bethlehem, Northampton County; Mothers’ Memorial, Hoffman Memorial, and Veterans’ Memorial, Ashland, Schuylkill County; Northampton County Bridge No. 15, Lower Saucon Township, Northampton County; Almerion C. and Barbara Moseman Orton Farm, Wattsburg,Erie County; Parkside Chapel, Henryville, Monroe County; and Peter Woll & Sons Factory, Philadelphia.


Elizabeth Rairigh is the division chief for Preservation Services and the National Register coordinator in the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.