EXTRA: Saving the Ben Moore Hotel

 Just a few blocks from downtown Montgomery, you’ll find a a building that might look abandoned on the outside. It sits right across from the parsonage of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, which is now an often visited museum. And much like the parsonage – it too is one of the most historic pieces of property in the city. So what will it take to make it thrive once again?

The Ben Moore Hotel sits on the corner of Jackson and High Streets, and opened its doors on September 23, 1951. Before that day African Americans had to rely on friends or boarding houses when they needed a place to stay during that time of racial tension in the South. This hotel was a place where black guests were treated as equals.

Richard Bailey, the chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, says the hotel was well known across the country.

“Many persons were aware of the significance of the hotel, called this hotel the best hotel for African Americans south of the Ohio River. And that’s really saying something.”

Edward Davis’s father bought the building in the 1970s. In the early 2000s he started an effort to raise money to bring the hotel back to life.

He says, “He wanted to cover this place with historical memorabilia, and he started a picture, that he never got a chance to finish. But he wanted to finish this and he wanted to deck it out as a center point of Centennial Hill. Because this also was the only spot that had a high rise that wasn’t downtown. So it was like the center point of Centennial Hill and everybody was really proud to have this in their neighborhood.”

Those restoration plans, died along with him when he passed away in 2014.

Davis says, “He didn’t share all of his vision with me, but I know that he constantly looked for ways to restore the hotel because he knew the historical value of it. and much like him, I would like to do the same thing.”

The first floor was once occupied by the Majestic Café. All of the original seating and original tables are still there.  On the second and third floor were 28 rooms. The suites – on one side of the hall – all with their own bathrooms and showers. The other side were the standard rooms – where guests shared a communal hallway bathroom.

But the star of the hotel was the rooftop garden, referred to as the Afro Club at night – a place where some of the top black performers came to play.

But the rooftop wasn’t just for entertainment. It was a place where some of the most important decisions of the Civil Rights movement were made.

Bailey says, “ED Nixon, who was president of the NAACP and the Montgomery Progressive Democratic Association, held his meetings here also. And then Dr. King brought his lieutenants here, Dr. Abernathy and the others. And this is where he did his planning too.”

While it won’t ever be like it was in its heyday, Davis hopes to make it a vibrant part of the community once again.

He says, “I can’t see it being a hotel, but I can see it being a perfect place for receptions, especially up here.  I know keeping our history alive is so important so we don’t repeat it. So I would really love to see this come back to life.”

Edward Davis says he is open to help and suggestions to get restoration efforts off the ground. He has created a Go Fund Me account to help raise money for the restoration. You can find the link here: https://www.gofundme.com/ben-moore-hotel-restoration

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