The first restoration phase of the A.G. Gaston Motel, the historic motel included in the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, has been completed, with Mayor Randall Woodfin joining representatives from the city of Birmingham and the U.S. National Park Service to mark the occasion by lighting the motel’s iconic sign Tuesday evening.
“The A.G. Gaston motel sign served as a beacon to black families traveling through the segregated South,” Woodfin said. “It’s a sign that will now shine in remembrance of Dr. A.G. Gaston’s legacy – a legacy of black prosperity, equal opportunity, Southern hospitality and freedom.”
The multi-phase restoration effort began in 2019, two years after President Barack Obama designated the motel as part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, on the 1954 wing of the motel. 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.
According to a release from the mayor’s office, the original “Z” shaped sign on the motel was reconstructed and installed using historic photographs as a guide.
“Original 1954 drawings of the motel building exist but do not contain information about the original sign,” the release states. “The size of the sign was determined by identifying clues in the photos, such as counting brick courses and alignments with the building soffit.”
The restoration also switched the original neon sign for a more efficient LED one, while retaining a similar character to the original.
“This is a major milestone in the restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel. We now look forward to the completion of the 1968 wing and courtyard of the motel,” said Denise Gilmore, senior director of the city’s Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity. “This affirms our collaborative partnership with the National Park Service and represents a significant step in preserving the culture and history of the civil rights movement in Birmingham.”
“The completion of Phase 1 is an exciting achievement for all of us,” said Kristofer B. Butcher, superintendent of Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. “It’s an important step in preserving the Gaston Motel and standing up operations and visitor services at Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. We are immensely proud of our partnership with the City of Birmingham and look forward to continuing our work together. “
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.