On Thursday, June 29, the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in downtown Birmingham will open to the public for a free visit for a limited time. The motel, a key historic site of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, will be open Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The A. G. Gaston Motel served as the headquarters for much of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement and a place of rest for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many freedom fighters. It was also the backdrop to the memories of many Birmingham residents, their honeymoons, graduations, and proms. That makes it a very special place,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “We are grateful for the partnerships that helped to make this opening happen. It gives me great joy that the Gaston Motel has new life and will now be a part of new stories to come. It was always a place that welcomed all people, and starting Thursday that legacy continues.”
The mayor added, “It is our hope that the gift of the restored Gaston Motel will serve to inspire residents and visitors for current and future generations to come. This historic site is hallowed ground. The strategies, meetings, and work of activists that took place here contributed in part to the freedoms we have today.”
The 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.
Located in the historic Civil Rights District at 1510 Fifth Ave. North, visitors to the site will experience standing in the courtyard where the foot soldiers stood to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and other civil rights leaders give instructions on the 1963 Project “C” (for “confrontation”), which led to a series of efforts that helped to break the grip of segregation. They will also view the exhibit on the life and legacy of Dr. A. G. Gaston. Interpretation of the motel will be provided by the National Park Service rangers and interns.
“The opening of the historic A. G. Gaston Motel is a major accomplishment for the people of Birmingham,” said Denise E. Gilmore, senior director of the city’s Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity. “It was an honor to lead the restoration on behalf of the Mayor’s Office in collaboration with Capital Projects. We owe a special thanks to so many partners, the Mellon Foundation, NPS, Gaston Construction Company, Lord Aeck Sargent and to everyone who contributed their time, talent, and skills to see this restoration through to a successful opening.”
The motel is jointly owned by the City of Birmingham and the National Park Service. NPS manages the 1954 wing of the motel, which includes Dr. King’s War Room 30 where he strategized plans for the movement. The City’s manages the 1968 wing, which includes the coffee shop and now the Gaston exhibit.
‘The Welcome Mat’
The National Park Service will assist in staffing the city-owned side of the motel, including recruiting and training volunteer docents. The NPS-owned side, originally built in 1954, is not yet open for visitation. Having recently completed a call for public comment through what’s known as the General Management Plan, the site is in early stages of bringing that vision to life through developing designs for interior renovation and exhibits.
“It’s an honor to collaborate with the City of Birmingham to open this historic motel,” said Acting Superintendent William (Bill) Reilly. “Dr. A.G. Gaston rolled out the welcome mat so that visitors near and far could feel at home. Alongside the City, we will strive to follow his example.”
The City of Birmingham committed $10 million for the motel’s renovation. The multi-phase project began in 2019 on the National Park Service 1954 wing. The A. G. Gaston Construction Company, a legacy company of Dr. Gaston, was contracted to undertake the restoration. The NPS wing was completed in December of 2020 highlighted with the sign lighting for the historic motel.
The restoration continued in 2021 with work on the City of Birmingham’s 1968 wing and courtyard, which is now completed. In addition, The Mellon Foundation awarded a $1.1 million grant to the City of Birmingham for the restoration of the historic A.G. Gaston Motel. Funds from the “Humanities in Place” program supported the restoration of the interior coffee shop and original dining room, which now houses the A.G. Gaston exhibit, and a catering kitchen.
Beginning in late summer, an admission fee will be charged to visitors to help support the cost of operations. For more information about the historic A. G. Gaston Motel and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, go here. All group and commercially operated tours must be pre-arranged to accommodate for the motel’s capacity. Schedule those at firstname.lastname@example.org.