The Jazz Age in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor's boom came in a period of rapid national change which affected traditional social mores. The '20's were known as the "jazz age" and Ann Arbor participated fully in it. Movies, dancing, and the soda fountain were popular diversions. The radio, whether a smart little box or a "console," was a must for every home.

With the adoption of prohibition, the soda fountain emerged as a recreational and social center. Many confectioners added a soda fountain as did most drugstores. By the early '20's soda fountains and ice cream parlors were well established in Ann Arbor and their popularity lasted throughout the decade.

The increasing popularity of dancing touched not only the University, local high schools, and public dance halls, but also small restaurants and confectionery shops. During the '20's there was dancing every night at the Hut and the Den, two restaurants at either end of the University diagonal, and at Drake's Sandwich Shop on North University. Granger's Academy on Maynard entertained record crowds. Also the new Union and League buildings were always open for weekend dancing. By 1925 local dance hall proprietors estimated they earned $80,000 yearly from University students alone.

Movies were another great source of popular entertainment. The town had two clusters of "picture shows," one near campus and the other on Main Street. As an indication of their attraction, student riots of the '20's focused on gaining free admission to theaters. Two of the three near campus invariably closed for the summer when the students left, but the rest were always open and busy. By 1924 lines of as many as 1,500 frequently stood outside the largest of them, the Majestic on Maynard Street. In January 1928 the largest of the movie palaces, the Michigan, opened with seating for 2,200. By the spring of 1929 sound movies appeared in Ann Arbor, first at the Wuerth Theater downtown, and a week later, at the Michigan.

Michigan went "dry" on the eve of America's entry into World War I. Ann Arbor--and the nation--went from overwhelming popular support of prohibition to open violation in a matter of months. Some saloon owners who sadly closed their doors, later reopened a new business under another name at a more secluded location. Early in 1920 city council was aroused by the sudden appearance of "Turkish coffee houses," which acquired a reputation as replacements for the saloon and particularly for gambling. Council responded with an ordinance regulating their hours and specifically forbidding any gambling or card playing on their premises.

Groups which had never tried alcohol suddenly found it socially acceptable. The more affluent element, which had traditionally been "tee-totalling," was caught by the "rage." By the end of the '20's the cocktail party was well on its way to being an accepted norm of "polite society." The youth were particularly affected, and by the mid-20's drinking at University fraternity parties aroused local residents and University authorities. As the decade closed, the consumption of alcohol was spreading throughout all elements of Ann Arbor's population.

Cigarette smoking also grew increasingly popular. By 1923 an observer noted the enormous cloud of smoke hanging over Michigan's stadium. The University and local businesses designed their new buildings to be as fireproof as possible, both because of increased electrical wiring and increased smoking. Again, the younger element was a pacesetter in adopting the new custom, and by the end of the decade even "respectable" women were smoking cigarettes.

But these were the flashy symptoms of Ann Arbor's participation in the Jazz Age. Zoning laws, residential patterns, University expansion, and the automobile had made their mark on the city and were here to stay. The impending Great Depression was not to alter the pattern of Ann Arbor's development.