MIAMI — In 1954, a motel built in the Brownsville area of Miami helped to ensure that black celebrities performing or visiting the Magic City had a dignified place to lay their heads.
While they could perform for white audiences in white hotels, they were forbidden to stay in them as guests.
Black families vacationing in South Florida also stayed at The Hampton House motel, at 4200 NW 27 Avenue.
Falling into disrepair, the Hampton House shut its doors in 1976. The place where Martin Luther King gave an early version of his “I Have a Dream” speech became a dilapidated haven for drug addicts and the homeless.
Fast forward to 2001, more than 40 years after its birth, and the Hampton House was facing a certain death.
Simultaneous efforts to have it designated as a historic site paralleled the county's efforts to demolish it because it had been deemed an unsafe structure.
Enid Pinkney, a Miami native and president of the Historic Hampton House Community Trust (HHHCT), told the South Florida Times in a telephone interview that the presence of Luis Penelas on the Trust's board helped to save it from demolition. Penelas' brother, Alex, was the mayor of Miami-Dade County at the time.
“I had worked hard to save the [Miami] Circle,” Pinkney said of widespread efforts to preserve the controversial archeological site near downtown Miami. Her efforts apparently did not go unnoticed. (The Miami Circle was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark early this year.)
According to Pinkney, Penelas said, “If we could save the Circle, we can save the Hampton House.” Along with his brother, he was instrumental in the Trust's gaining a stay of demolition.
A recent event to unveil plans for refurbishing the historic segregation-era hotel honored County Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson.
During the event, the commissioner and the Trust revealed Phase One of the building's renovation. It will include a cultural center on African-American history in Miami with exhibit space and archives; a center for music education with classrooms and rehearsal spaces; and a multi-purpose room and banquet hall for social functions, lectures and
Pinkney said Kathy Hersch first approached the African American Committee of the Dade Heritage Trust (on which Pinkney serves) about having the Hampton House designated a historic site. Hersch is a producer and media consultant who serves on the board of the Dade Heritage Trust.
Once the Hampton House had been designated a historic site, the race was on to secure funds to restore it.
Prominent historical preservation architect Richard Heisenbottle assisted Pinkney in applying for the $4.7 million general obligation bond that will help to fund the restoration.
Pinkney said Heisenbottle's participation was critical because of his outstanding architectural reputation. Heisenbottle and his Miami firm, J Heisenbottle Architects, have been instrumental in the refurbishment of Miami Edison middle school's auditorium, the Lou Rawls Performance Art Center at Florida Memorial University, the Freedom Tower and several other prominent projects in South Florida.
The Hampton House Trust has been awarded a few grants, but still needs additional funding to bolster the restoration monies and for operating expenses. Pinkney and a few members from the DHT African-American committee, work part-time toward the Hampton House's rebirth. Ideally, she'd like to hire an office manager and a few other staff people to facilitate the restoration process.
The community's support is imperative, Pinkney said. One way that people can support the project is through the purchase of a $20 documentary created a few years ago that chronicles the historic motel and captures the sentiments of locals reminiscing about its glory days.
Photo: The Hampton House motel