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 announcement was made on Tuesday and part of $15 million in grants supporting 19 projects and organizations through the Foundation’s newly established Humanities in Place program, which focuses on work that includes or incorporates historic and community spaces, museums and other institutions.
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 to continue 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 thank the 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 Mellon Foundation also awarded a grant to Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL) which will receive $750,000 over three years to support a trans-institutional partnership for preservation education, outreach, and practice centered on Black heritage. The collaboration aims to address historic deficits in the capacity to train, commission, and direct preservation efforts, including design, documentation, storytelling, and community development.