A. G. Gaston Motel Restoration

For Immediate Release
Contact: Marie Sutton
205.503.3436
marie.sutton@birminghamal.gov

The City of Birmingham to celebrate the restoration of the historic  A.G. Gaston Motel 

Birmingham, AL – A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the restoration of the historic A.G. Gaston motel will take place on Thursday, June 30 at 10 a.m. revealing the restored exterior of the motel and courtyard, the 1968 wing with the restored coffee shop, dining room and a special exhibition. The second phase of the A.G. Gaston Motel restoration project is now substantially complete. Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin will be joined by Congresswoman Terri Sewell as well as several other local, state and federal dignitaries. Following the ribbon-cutting, a tour of an exhibit in tribute to the life of A.G. Gaston as well as several panel discussions will take place. 

“This is a proud day for Birmingham,” said Mayor Woodfin. “The Gaston Motel has a special place in history and in the hearts of our residents as well as people across the country. Now, new memories and a new history can be written.”  

The A.G. Gaston Motel is the key historic site of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, a collaborative partnership of the National Park Service, the City of Birmingham, and the Historical Preservation Authority. It is the centerpiece of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which was established in 2017 by President Barack Obama. 

The City of Birmingham committed $10 million to restore the motel. In addition, the Mellon Foundation awarded a $1.1 million grant to the City for the restoration of the coffee shop, dining room, and exhibit. Restoration of the coffee shop will provide an operational facility to serve food and beverages for residents and tourists, and the original dining room will serve as the location of the permanent exhibit on the life and legacy of Dr. A. G. Gaston. The Gaston Motel’s multi-phase restoration began in 2019 on the 1954 wing of the hotel. The A. G. Gaston Construction Company, a legacy company of Dr. Gaston, was contracted to undertake the restoration.  

“We celebrate the three-year restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel as a crowning achievement of the preservation of Birmingham’s civil rights history,” said Denise E. Gilmore, senior director of the city’s Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity. “Mayor Woodfin’s steadfast commitment to ensure that the legacy of the Gaston Motel and Dr. Gaston would once again be a gathering place for the community demonstrates exceptional leadership. The restoration is a collaborative effort by city, federal, non-profit, professional service providers and community stakeholders and we are grateful for a successful outcome.” 

Renowned Birmingham businessman A. G. Gaston originally opened the motel on July 1, 1954, and it quickly became one of the city’s main black establishments. Gaston, Birmingham’s first African American millionaire, opened the motel to offer first-class lodging, entertainment and dining options for African Americans traveling through a segregated South.  

Gaston frequently opened the motel’s guest rooms to civil rights activists. Room 30 became known as the “War Room,” where Project C was strategized by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. It was in that room where King decided to defy a court injunction and be jailed alongside local protesters — a move that led to his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  

In addition, celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, James Baldwin, and Harry Belafonte stayed at the motel. The facility eventually closed in 1986.  

Schedule of events: 

10:00 a.m. A.G. Gaston Ribbon Cutting 

10:30 a.m. A. G. Gaston Exhibit Reveal 

11:00 a.m. Looking Back – Memories of Dr. A. G. Gaston” 

Moderator – Bob Dickerson, Chair, A. G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club 

                             Rochelle Gaston Malone, Gaston Family 

                             Odessa Woolfolk, Gaston Friend 

                             James Poindexter, Gaston Construction Company Employee 

11:30 a.m. Make It Happen Theater Company – “The Life and Legacy of Dr. A. G. Gaston” 

11:45 a.m.           Looking Ahead – A.G. Gaston Motel” 

                             Moderator – Denise E. Gilmore, Senior Director, Division of Social Justice & Racial Equity, City of Birmingham 

                             Brent Leggs, Executive Director AACHAF & SVP, National Trust for Historic Preservation 

                             Carlton Eley, Senior Director for Federal Strategies, Race Forward 

                             Kristofer Butcher, Superintendent, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument 

September 22, 2021

For Immediate Release
Contact: Rick Journey
205.254.2823
rick.journey@birminghamal.gov

A.G. Gaston Motel Restoration Receives $1.1 Million Mellon Foundation Grant

Birmingham, AL – The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $1.1 million grant to the City of Birmingham’s restoration of the historic A.G. Gaston Motel. Funds from the “Humanities in Place” program will support restoration of the interior coffee shop and dining room in the 1968 wing of the motel. The A.G. Gaston Motel is the key historic site of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, a collaborative partnership of the National Park Service, the City of Birmingham, and the Historical Preservation Authority. The authority, which was created by the city to oversee the restoration, will receive the grant.

“We are very proud of the work that continues at the A.G. Gaston Motel. The Mellon Foundation’s ‘Humanities in Place’ grant emphasizes the importance of this location as a permanent exhibit on the life and legacy of A.G. Gaston,” Mayor Randall L. Woodfin said. “I am thankful to the Mellon Foundation for this catalytic investment tocontinue revitalization of the Civil Rights District.”

Restoration of the coffee shop and original dining room will provide an operational facility to serve food and beverage for residents and tourists, as well as create a space for community meetings.

“This restoration will allow this site to once again be a community gathering place for social justice engagement and change,” said Denise E. Gilmore, senior director of the city’s Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity. “I want to thankthe Mellon Foundation Board of Trustees, President Elizabeth Alexander and ‘Humanities in Place’ Program Officer Justin G. Moore for sharing our vision for this restoration.”

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument was established in 2017 by President Barack Obama. A multi-phase restoration began in 2019 on the 1954 wing of the hotel. This wing includes Room 30, known as the “War Room,” where Project C was strategized by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. Exterior restoration of the 1954 wing is now complete. Phase 2 restoration is currently underway on the exterior of the 1968 wing and courtyard of the motel. Work is expected to be complete in early summer 2022.

The City of Birmingham has committed $10,000,000 to restore the motel. The National Park Service owns and manages the 1954 wing and has management and financial responsibility for the interior restoration and interpretation.

The full release from the Mellon Foundation can be viewed here.

A video including comments from Denise E. Gilmore and the work site can be viewed here.

B-roll of the current work site at A.G. Gaston Motel can be downloaded here.

Lighting of Historic A.G. Gaston Motel Marks Completion of Phase 1 Restoration

Birmingham, AL – Mayor Randall L. Woodfin joined representatives from the city and the National Park Service to light the iconic A.G. Gaston Motel sign today, marking the completion of Phase 1 of the restoration of the historic site.

“The A.G. Gaston motel sign served as a beacon to black families traveling through the segregated South,” Mayor Woodfin said. “It’s a sign that will now shine in remembrance of Dr. A.G. Gaston’s legacy – a legacy of Black prosperity, equal opportunity, Southern hospitality and freedom.”

The A.G. Gaston Motel is included in the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which was established in 2017 by President Barack Obama. A multi-phase restoration began in 2019 on the 1954 wing of the hotel. This wing includes Room 30, known as the “War Room,” where Project C was strategized by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. Exterior restoration of the 1954 wing is now complete.

“This is a major milestone in the restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel. We now look forward to the completion of the 1968 wing and courtyard of the motel,” said Denise Gilmore, senior director of the city’s Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity. “This affirms our collaborative partnership with the National Park Service and represents a significant step in preserving the culture and history of the civil rights movement in Birmingham.”

“The completion of Phase 1 is an exciting achievement for all of us,” said Kristofer B. Butcher, superintendent of Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. “It’s an important step in preserving the Gaston Motel and standing up operations and visitor services at Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. We are immensely proud of our partnership with the City of Birmingham and look forward to continuing our work together. ”

The original “Z” shaped sign on the motel was reconstructed and installed using historic photographs as a guide. Original 1954 drawings of the motel building exist but do not contain information about the original sign. The size of the sign was determined by identifying clues in the photos, such as counting brick courses and alignments with the building soffit. The lighting of the reconstructed sign is LED, which will have a longer service life and consume less energy while capturing much of the character of the original neon sign.

Phase 2 restoration is currently underway on the exterior of the 1968 wing and courtyard of the motel. Work is expected to be complete in early summer 2022.

 

Birmingham, Ala. (March 27, 2019) ー The first phase of restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel is underway. The motel, which served as a meeting place for civil rights activists, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

“We are investing in this project because this is the site of freedom – a freedom that changed our city, our nation, our world,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said during a news conference in the courtyard of the 32-room motel. “The A. G. Gaston motel will continue to stand as a symbol of change.”

The restoration of the motel, which closed in the late 1970s, will be done in phases. The current phase will involve an assessment of the 65-year-old motel. Once the assessment, known as a “mock-up,” is completed in June, exterior renovation will begin. The whole project is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Because this motel is near and dear to many, Mayor Woodfin wants to hear from those with memories of this landmark. Between March 27 and May 15, 2019, people may submit their memories, phone number and/or photos of their time at the motel to gastonstories@birminghamal.gov. No memory is too big or too small. This venue was known to host wedding receptions, dinners, celebrity acts, civil rights strategy meetings, overnight lodging and more. Such events are rich with history, which is why Mayor Woodfin is offering this storytelling opportunity.

During the news conference, Dr. Barbara Tagger was introduced as the acting superintendent for the national monument. Dr. Tagger, a National Park Service Historian, served as site manager of the Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail.

Renowned Birmingham businessman A. G. Gaston opened the motel on July 1, 1954 and it quickly became one of the city’s main black establishments. Gaston frequently opened the motel’s guest rooms to civil rights activists, with Room 30 becoming Rev. King’s “war room” in the spring of 1963. It was in that room where King decided to defy a court injunction and be jailed alongside local protesters — a move that led to his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

In May of 1963, days after a confrontation and truce with Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor, a bomb was detonated beneath Room 30, greatly damaging the motel. The motel closed in the late 1970s.

In January 2017, President Barack Obama designated the Birmingham Civil rights District as a national monument. Since that time, the National Park Service has maintained a partnership with the City of Birmingham to restore the A.G. Gaston motel to its appearance during the Birmingham civil rights campaign of spring 1963.

City celebration of the 65th anniversary of the A.G. Gaston Motel set for July 1

Mayor Randall L. Woodfin will join Sen. Doug Jones and others on Monday, July 1 at 9 a.m. in the courtyard of the A.G. Gaston Motel to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the landmark’s opening.

Gaston, Birmingham’s first African-American millionaire, opened the motel in 1954 to offer first-class lodging, entertainment and dining options for African-Americans traveling through a segregated South. At the time, African Americans found few motels or hotels that would cater to them simply because of the color of their skin.

Celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington and Harry Belefonte stayed at the motel, which also became a place for civil rights leaders the Rev. Martin Luther King, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and others to develop strategies during Birmingham’s civil rights movement of 1963. The facility eventually closed in 1986. But its history lives on. Today, the National Park Service and the City of Birmingham are partnering to restore the motel to its original look. Crews have been assessing the roof, windows, doors, frames, brick exterior, etc. to determine what is needed to restore the building to its historical significance of 1963. A. G. Gaston Construction Co. will perform the historic restoration.

The project is expected to be complete by December 2021. It will serve as a visitors’ center as well as a place for meetings and more.

On July 1, Mayor Woodfin, Sen. Jones, elected officials, Gaston relatives and others will reflect on the motel’s place in history and participate in the unveiling of an honorary street designation in memory of Gaston. When the motel opened with 32 air-conditioned rooms, it opened with celebration. A look back to the past and look to the future will take center stage on July 1 when supporters gather for the anniversary. Several events are planned following the celebration ceremony in the courtyard.

“The A.G. Gaston Motel represents Mr. Gaston’s entrepreneurial excellence and where history happened,’’ said Mayor Woodfin. “Many people visiting the motel, put their lives on the line for civil and human rights so that we all could experience a better America.’’

The motel’s Room 30 became known as the “War Room,’’ which is where King and others met to strategize and plan “Project C,’’ the 1963 campaign of protests and marches. These actions changed the world and the course of the nation in granting civil and human rights to all citizens, said Denise Gilmore, senior director of the City of Birmingham’s Office of Social Justice and Racial Equality.

“The A. G. Gaston Motel serves to preserve and confront a period in United States history where racial terror was accepted by state instrumentalities and institutions. It helps us examine how the legacy of racial segregation permeates through society today,’’ said Gilmore. “Now that the motel is getting new life, we envision the motel to be a place of reflection, restoration and renewal.’’

Through the years, the motel has been featured in books and documentaries. Earlier this year, the Smithsonian Channel aired  “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,’’ which looked at how African Americans used the “The Green Book’’ to help them know which restaurants, gas stations, motels, etc. were safe for them to visit while traveling across a segregated America from the 1930s to the 1960s. In 2014, Birmingham author Marie A. Sutton wrote about the motel in her book, “The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham: A Civil Rights Landmark.”

“When the motel was closed and seemingly forgotten and abandoned, it felt like such a loss. But now that the motel has been revisited and renovations are planned, the legacy gets to live on,’’ said Sutton. “A.G. Gaston was a wonderful man with a wide-reaching impact that had a ripple effect for the African-American community. And now that this motel is back at the forefront, people are speaking his name and they are speaking the name of his motel.’’

“This motel was a backdrop to so many people’s stories. It was a monument where people had their first prom, first date or Sunday dinner,’’ Sutton said. “My parents had their wedding reception there. This motel was important to my parents, it’s important to Birmingham and it will be important to my children. This is Birmingham history, and I’m excited to see its renewal.’’

The City of Birmingham is collecting people’s stories and photos of the A.G. Gaston Motel. To share, please submit memories, photos and/or phone numbers to gastonstories@birminghamal.gov.