The Other Side of Miami

Miami-Dade County rescues a segregation-era resort

Malcolm
Malcolm X photographs Muhammad Ali at Hampton House Motel and Villas

In the days of segregation, when people of color could secure neither a room nor a dinner reservation at Miami Beach's famed hotels, the Hampton House Motel in nearby Brownsville provided a haven of culture for African Americans.

Malcolm X became a guest at the 50-room motel; Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, visited the Mediterranean-style outdoor pool with Muhammad Ali. Sam Cooke regularly sang in the low-lit lounge, and locals claim that Martin Luther King Jr. gave an early version of his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Hampton House before proclaiming the final version in Washington in 1963.

But the Hampton House closed in 1972, just 17 years after it opened, a casualty of desegregation and nearby growth. It has remained vacant and deteriorating ever since, and today it is one of the last segregation-era hotels still standing.

Hampton
Hampton House before renovation

Credit: Gurri Matute

When architect Daphne Gurri first saw the Hampton House in 2006, it was in a state of total disrepair: The roof and second floor had collapsed; the floor was covered in mud; and a 35-foot ficus tree grew in the middle of the two-story structure.

"The [trees] uprooted all the walkways, and their roots intertwined with the railings," says Gurri, principal and owner of Miami-based Gurri Matute. "It was like something from your imagination, like the Sleeping Beauty movie, when the castle is covered with vines."

The Historic Hampton House Community Trust (HHHCT) selected Gurri's architectural firm, Gurri Matute, to shore-up the motel's sloping concrete walls. It was the first of many steps taken to save the structure—an effort that began after Enid Pinkney helped establish the HHHCT.

Pinkney first learned of the Hampton House as a member of the African American Committee of the Dade Heritage Trust, when the old motel was threatened with a demolition order. In 2001, the structure was collapsing, but a handful of residents remembered what it had been and hoped to preserve it.

"They came to [the Dade Heritage Trust] asking if we would sponsor the historic designation of the building," Pinkney says. "But the motive had to change because it was a derelict building, and if you have no building, you have no historic designation."

The group did secure a stay of demolition from the mayor, but then encountered problems with the owner, who wanted to sell the property. "We were pleading with him not to sell," says Pinkney, now the trust's founding president/CEO. "Whoever bought it could tear it down."

The county was able to purchase the Hampton House for $450,000 and designate the property a local historic site. However, the Dade County Heritage Trust had neither funds for restoration nor time to raise awareness. So the HHHCT was formed in 2002.

Hampton
1960s postcard of Hampton House Motel and Villas

Credit: Gurri Matute Architects

When it opened in 1954, the then-Booker Terrace Motel and Apartments stood out as a midcentury modern complex in predominately middle-class, African American Brownsville. The motel did not become a success until property owners Harry and Florence Markowitz took over and decided to offer the type of upscale amenities found in nearby Miami Beach.

They offered patrons a 24-hour restaurant and jazz nightclub with white linen tablecloths, valet parking, and a well-known maitre d', Charles Martin. Because African American musicians could not check in to the all-white hotels where they performed in Miami Beach, many of them flocked to the Hampton House.

Then came integration, and the motel's popularity simply evaporated. Longtime clients began staying elsewhere, and the motel became a symbol of urban blight.

Last September, Gurri's firm finished the exhaustive task of stabilizing the hotel walls and clearing the space of nearly 30 years of mud, debris, and trash.

"When we first came in, you had to watch your head for fallen floor beams that were dangling, and pieces of glass that had fallen down from the second floor," she says. "Now there's a web of temporary beams that cross from one side of the building to the next."

During the clean-up, Gurri's team was able to salvage artifacts like wrought-iron railings, pink and green terrazzo-style tiles, from more than half of the original room numbers. However, two floors must be rebuilt, rather than restored.

Hampton
Rendering of the future Hampton House

Credit: Gurri Matute Architects

When the $7.5 million project is completed in 2012, the Historic Hampton Hotel Community Trust hopes to open the refurbished space as a music museum and local cultural center. "There will be a community room for people to have wedding receptions and parties and social events," Pinkney says. "We hope to have a restaurant and gift shop, and a space for local educational institutions to hold music classes."

On Feb. 17 the local Historic Preservation Board will hold a hearing to approve the project, which follows the Secretary of the Interior's guidelines for historic preservation. Both Florida Memorial University and the University of Miami have expressed a desire to use the finished building as an off-campus base for music lessons, says Gurri.

"This project was a no-brainer," Gurri says. "It's a rare opportunity to be called in to remodel a building with such a history to it."

 

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Comments

Submitted by worrywart at: December 9, 2010
I would very like much like to know how one goes about beginning the process of getting a miami-dade historic structure protection under NTHP. How do I begin the process? What papers, etc. do I need to file in order to get things started. I've asked quite a few people on-line and have never received an answer. Please help me. Thank You Somebody, Anybody. stover.p919@att.net

Submitted by Daria at: November 12, 2010
I just recently worked toward an archive colletion on this lovely historic building. I myself would like to see ot preserved back to it's old glory. I have seen the projected plans for the building and to me it doesn't fit right. You may see the archive of The Hampton House at www.theblackarchives.org

Submitted by non at: February 27, 2010
I remember when Jews weren't allowed in a lot of places either.

Submitted by xandra at: February 27, 2010
Was there any effort to save some of the trees?

Submitted by Beatrice at: February 25, 2010
I am very glad it will bring in money and become a place where people of all race, creed and nationality can personally profit from its being available to use and the incessant need to raise funds to maintain it thereafter will be broken.

Submitted by Enid C. Pinkney at: February 19, 2010
I am extremely excited and appreciative of this excellent news article by Elizabeth McNamara. It is encouraging to get this kind of recognition and publicity from the National Trust. I have been working on his project since 2001. The recognition from this one article erases the past frustrations and difficulties as we are motivated to continue to forge ahead. Enid C. Pinkney

Submitted by Kathleen Kauffman at: February 18, 2010
The Historic Preseravation Board did approve the plans at it's board meeting on February 17th. This is an exciting and immense project that will bring together many parts of our diverse community.

Submitted by Anonymous at: February 17, 2010
As an Advisory Member of the Historic Hampton House Inn I was delighted to read Elizabeth McNamara's article on the site. It is indeed a special project and Dr. Pinkney has been tireless in her devotion to this project. Leslie Rivera, Coral Gables, Fl.

Submitted by Brian at: February 15, 2010
Amazing that it has been saved, but also amazing to see the strange unthinkable world of before.