Nightclub owner Ed Small opened Small's Paradise on 22 October 1925. The large basement club featured a big band and floor shows and could accommodate 1,500 patrons. Customers vied for space on the postage-stamp-size dance floor while Charleston-dancing waiters brought Chinese food and bootleg liquor to the small tables. One waiter who went on to greater fame was Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X. He worked at Small's in 1943.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Small's was considered one of the Big Three nightgclubs in Harlem, along with the Cotton Club and Connie's Inn. But unlike the other clubs, Small's was always integrated, drawing an audience of local and visiting blacks as well as well-to-do whites from downtown.
Charlie Johnson & His Orchestra was the house band for the first decade. After hours, musicians from Harlem and downtown stopped by to jam. Small's Sunday night jam sessions became legendery.
While nightlife dimmed in Harlem by the mid-1930s and other clubs closed or relocated downtown, Small's remained open. In the 1960s, basketball great Wilt Chamberlain bought Small's and dubbed the club Big Wilt's Small's Paradise. The club finally closed in 1986.
The building that for so many years hosted great music and dancing was converted to the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change in 2004. The public high school is sponsored by the Abyssinian Development Corporation, associated with Abyssinian Baptist Church.