Restoration Work Begins on Historic A.G. Gaston Motel

Posted by .

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.

Woodfin’s First Year: Priority Remains on Neighborhoods

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin began his second year in office Thursday. When he was elected, he pledged to improve the quality of life in the city, and make it a safer, more economically vibrant place.

Development Planned for Blighted Sites North of Downtown

Change may be on the way for two sites in north Birmingham. Corporate Realty is preparing to redevelop the former Carraway Hospital site. Another group is planning lofts at the old Kirby School and a former armory site in Norwood.

Birmingham Council Approves $90 Million For Stadium, BJCC Expansion

The City of Birmingham will contribute $90 million over the next 30 years toward a new downtown and an expansion of the BJCC. The council voted 6 to 3 on Monday for the plan following a four-hour and at times contentious debate.

WBHM’s “On The Line” Talk Show Tackles Uneven Birmingham Revival

Walk around downtown Birmingham and there’s an energy you wouldn’t have felt a few years ago. Residents are moving to new lofts and apartments. Restaurants and retailers are opening. People do yoga at Railroad Park or take in a ballgame at Region’s Field. They’re visible signs of a Birmingham revival. But that revival is uneven. Talk to some in neighborhoods away from Downtown and they’ll say “revival” doesn’t mean much to them. No fancy lofts, just abandoned homes and potholed roads that never seem to be fixed. And all this takes place against the backdrop of Birmingham’s racial history, with investment, by-and-large, coming from whites in a city that’s been majority black for a generation.

Birmingham Revitalization: City Investments at Work in West Birmingham

Birmingham’s western business district is one of the city’s oldest. At one time, a thriving community of working class families surrounded it. A shopping mall anchored the retail center, and businesses, large and small, lined Third Avenue West. Now, it’s a different story. The area has been in decline for decades. In 2011, the city Birmingham spent $46 million on the Birmingham Metro CrossPlex sports facility in hopes of giving the area an economic boost.