Reporting, writing and photos by Charlotte Gintert
A 30-foot blue dome rises above the West Hill neighborhood of Akron, a splash of vibrant color on a grey winter afternoon. For more than 40 years, that dome has been a landmark, and the world beneath it was unlike anything else.
On Dec. 14, Akron’s most unique event center announced that it was permanently closed and that the building had been sold to the LeBron James Family Foundation.
And just like that, the Tangier, as all of us in Akron know it, will be gone.
The original Tangier was opened by Lebanese immigrant Edward A. George on East Exchange Street across from Mason Park. It served Lebanese-American fare and the decor was Morroccan-themed, an idea of the interior designer. It became popular with Akronites almost immediately. After a fire destroyed the East Exchange location, George decided to open a new one in West Hill.
The new Tangier moved to the former Papa Joe’s Cafe on West Market Street in 1959. It retained the Moroccan theme, but switched the menu to steak and lobster. George didn’t stop there. He bought surrounding houses and demolished them to expand the restaurant. By 1964, seating capacity had increased from 100 to 500. In 1969, he enlarged the kitchen. Then, in 1976, the Tangier truly transformed. A $5 million remodel expanded capacity to 2,000.
The goal was to create a venue that could meet every possible entertainment need. A 550-car parking deck, which cost $1 million alone, was added for free onsite parking. There is a Las Vegas-style cabaret, a massive ballroom, private dining rooms and multiple bars. The iconic blue dome was added to the roof during the project.
The Tangier has hosted every event imaginable. There were countless proms, wedding receptions, reunions and fundraisers. It also hosted live shows, including performances by Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Gloria Estafan and Three Dog Night. More recently, it has hosted popular local events like the Halloween Charity Ball and PechaKucha Akron.
While a show was taking place upstairs in the cabaret, a private party could be held downstairs in the wine cellar or the Casbah room. The Casbah had a private street entrance for an extra private and exclusive experience.
When I asked Ed George, who owned Tangier from his father’s death in 1976 until the 2020 sale, about the rumored tunnel that ran under Market Street from the Tangier to buildings across the street, he laughed. “No, there’s no tunnel that I’m aware of.” Perhaps the story came from Prohibition when a previous business was at that location.
George says the end is bittersweet. He is aware of how much the Tangier meant to Akron. However, after more than 60 years, George says it is time to close the doors.
Although the pandemic did affect their business, it was not the main reason for closing. Business had slowed for a while and this just felt like the right time, George says. The idea to sell the entire complex to the LeBron James Family Foundation was born from the agreement for the I Promise school to use the top level of the parking deck for sports and events.
He says he and James have similar community-focused values and that the two families have had a relationship for many years. One of George’s daughters went to school with James and the basketball star attended events at Tangier since his St. V days. George is confident the foundation will do an excellent job remodeling and that the Tangier’s next chapter will be a good one for the neighborhood and for Akron.
Events already booked for the 2021 season will still go forward as the foundation begins the processing of turning the Tangier into House Thirty Three. Like Tangier, the new center will provide a variety of services including a financial health center and a fast casual dining space.
George said the memorabilia that has hung on the long hallway to the banquet rooms will remain with the family. They also haven’t closed the door on possibly opening a new event space elsewhere in town.
Of course, there is always sadness when a landmark like the Tangier closes. As Lloyd, a former server, walked me through the building this week, flipping on lights so I could photograph its unique rooms one last time, there was a touch of sadness in his voice as he shared stories from his 10 years there.
“It’s a shame it is closing,” he said. “It was special to have something like this in Akron.”
Charlotte Gintert is an archaeologist and a photographer.You can check out her photos at www.capturedglimpses.com. Follow her on Instagram at @capturedglimpses for more old Akron building content. She hopes you and your family have a great 2021!