Restoration Work Begins on Historic A.G. Gaston Motel

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Retired Birmingham educator Odessa Woolfolk speaks at a press conference on the restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel.
Retired Birmingham educator Odessa Woolfolk speaks at a press conference on the restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel.

Source: Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, WBHM

Work has begun to restore the motel that was a key location for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others during the civil rights movement, officials announced Wednesday. The A.G. Gaston Motel is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, designated by President Barack Obama in 2017. The city expects the renovations to be complete by December 2021.

Retired Birmingham educator Odessa Woolfolk remembers when the A.G. Gaston Motel had a lounge and a restaurant. It was the only local motel for blacks before the civil rights movement forced integration of public accommodations.

The Rev. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders including the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy often used Room 30 to strategize for the movement. It was bombed in May 1963 but later repaired.

The motel closed in the 1970s, and it has been boarded up for decades. Now, crews are inspecting the building to determine the best way to restore it. An architect specializing in historic preservation is assisting with the restoration.

The $10 million restoration is part of a partnership with the National Park Service and the City of Birmingham.

Woolfolk, Mayor Randall Woodfin and Council President Valerie Abbott were among the speakers at a press conference Wednesday to talk about the project.

“We’ve been waiting, as a the councilor said, a long time,” Woolfolk said. “And I’m hoping I’m still around when this is done.”

Woolfolk said the  motel is significant because of its rich history and the lessons it can teach visitors.

Birmingham businessman A.G. Gaston opened the motel in July 1954.

“We’re going to reminisce about the past, but that’s only because the past is a springboard to a greater future,” Woolfolk said.

In addition to the its role in the civil rights movement, the motel was also a social gathering place for dinners, wedding receptions and celebrity performances.

Woodfin wants people to share their A.G. Gaston Motel memories by sending photos and other information to [email protected] by May 15.

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