BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — At the height of the Civil Rights movement, the A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham played a major role. Opened in 1954 by Dr. A.G. Gaston, the motel quickly became a meeting spot for activists.
For James Poindexter, this place is uniquely special.
“I came here [to Birmingham] to build a funeral home for Dr. Gaston,“ explains Poindexter. “And I lived here in this motel for about 15 to 16 months.“
The structure has seen better days since Poindexter’s departure. In the now barren rooms, exposed pipes and dangling wires can be easily found.
But Mayor Randall Woodfin and other city leaders convened inside the motel courtyard Wednesday morning.
“The restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel has begun which will become another jewel in this city and its role in the Civil Rights Movement,” said Mayor Woodfin in a press conference. “The A.G. Gaston Motel is sacred ground.“
Jack Pyburn with Lord Aeck Sargent is the architect quarterbacking the restoration effort. He wants every detail of this project to reflect the original design: from the windows to the ceilings and all the way down to the asphalt which has been there since the beginning.
“The site is as important and the ground and paving are as important as the siding on the buildings,“ says Pyburn. “It’s the whole context we’re working with.“
Pyburn explains that the project begins now with the mock-up phase which will last through the summer. During this phase, architects and crews will be planning out the whole project, repairing the ceilings and replacing windows.
During the summer of 2020, the motel’s residential wing renovation will be completed. The project is expected to come to a close in 2021 when the back portion of the property, which Dr. Gaston built in 1968, is finished.
The total cost of the renovation is expected to come to $10 million.
As it so happens, Poindexter will be working on the project as well as the construction team’s superintendent: a former guest now helping to restore the property he once called home.
“The dream is to see it be a museum and to see people come in and to see it — for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren to see how far we’ve come,“ says Poindexter.