Haven to headquarters, the newly restored A.G. Gaston Motel sign

A.G. Gaston Sign
Newly restored A.G. Gaston sign. Photo via the City of Birmingham

Last night, Mayor Randall Woodfin, representatives from the city and the National Park Service flipped the switch, turning on the bright iconic A.G. Gaston Motel sign. The early evening ceremony in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District marked the completion of Phase 1 restoration of the historic site.

The A.G. Gaston Motel, which has been dormant for decades is one of the many historic buildings and places included in the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.  Established by President Barack Obama during the last month of his term, a multi-phase restoration began in 2019 on the 1954 wing of the hotel.

A. Gaston Motel
Exterior view of Room 30, known as the War Room at the A.G. Gaston Motel. Photo via city of Birmingham

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. The  exterior restoration of the 1954 wing – Phase 1 of the renovation –  is now complete.

From Haven to Headquarters

A.G. Gaston Motel
A.G. Gaston Motel sign lit on March, 10, 2021. Photo is a screenshot from the city of Birmingham Phase 1 completion ceremony.

Mayor Woodfin made the following remarks before the sign lighting.

“There’s a wonderful duality to the A.G Gaston Motel. On one hand it served as a safe haven for weary black travelers in an era when rooms were not readily available to us. On the other hand it served as a place for strategy, Room 30,  to become the unofficial war room for civil rights leaders in their quest for freedom. This legacy, from haven to headquarters is why restoration of this historic spot is so important.”

A. G. Gaston Motel
Exterior view of the Courtyard at the A.G. Gaston Motel. Photo via city of Birmingham

Denise Gilmore, senior director of the city’s Division of Social Justice and Racial Equity added, 

“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. 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.”

Details About the Sign

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 size of the sign was determined by identifying clues in the photos, such as counting brick courses and alignments with the building soffit. The lighting of the reconstructed sign is LED, which will have a longer service life and consume less energy while capturing much of the character of the original neon sign.

Next Up

A.G. Gaston Motel
Odessa Woolfolk speaking at the announcement of the restoration of A.G. Gaston Hotel. Phot by Jon Eastwood for Bham Now

According to the city, 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.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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