A meeting hosted by the Pullman Neighborhood Council and District 3 Councilmember Doria Robinson was held last week to explore the future of Richmond's historic International Hotel, which was destroyed along with two adjacent homes in a fire last April.
The small 20-room hotel, located at 396 Ethel Dotson South Street, was built more than a hundred years ago to provide for Black Pullman Porters who were in need of lodging while their train cars were being served at the nearby Pullman shops. The International Hotel stood half a block away from the Pullman Hotel and held a historical significance not only for the Pullman neighborhood but also for Richmond, representing an era of industrialization, labor organization, and growth of the city.
The discussion was led by the Pullman Pullman Neighborhood Council and included councilmembers Doria Robinson and Gayle McLaughlin, as well as Karithi Hartman, the son of Ethel Dotson, the former owner of the building and for whom South Street was renamed in 2021.
The group explored ideas, including the vision of turning the property into a cultural center dedicated to helping to tell the history of the hotel and the neighborhood surrounding it.
Councilmember Robinson said it was a great meeting with a good group of people.
"We had about 20 people, and Ethel's son, who was living in the house next door, which was also red-tagged, was also there. He lost all of his things in the fire," Robinson said. "All the research he had been doing about the history was lost in the fire."
Robinson also said that another idea for the property could be to link it to the city's labor history by creating a labor center focused on that narrative.
"We sort of landed on that it could be a labor center with a pocket park; there really aren't any parks in the neighborhood. I've looked into the permitting process, and it wouldn't be difficult," Robinson said.
But before any of those plans can move forward, there's the matter of cleaning up the property and what remains of the rickety wooden frame structure and debris from the fire. Robinson said that was going to be expensive and that Hartman, who inherited the building from his mother, didn't have the funds necessary to pay for the cleanup.
"We need to get some support to fund it, and with the site clean up," Robinson said, adding that she'd been in contact with Congressman John Garimendi, Assembly Members Nancy Skinner, and Buffy Wicks seeking additional help and resources.
Writing on social media, Richmond Police Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Millam said the historical significance of the International Hotel needs to be honored.
I am a Richmond resident. My grandparents came to Richmond in the 1950’s. When I was a college student and a young feild representative for the California State Assembly, I met Ethel Dotson. She called me up and was delighted to hear that I was from Richmond. We set up a meeting. Ms. Dotson pulled out a book with pictures of the international hotel where she resided. Ethel told me she was looking for a way to get the hotel declared as a state historical landmark. It had fallen into disrepair when I later visited her, and had mold issues. Ethel was a fearless environmental justice advocate. She advocated at numerous city council meetings to preserve and honor the legacy of the hotel until her death from cancer. More recently, I received a call from another esteemed Richmond figure, Ms. Naomi Williams, urging collaboration between Councilmember Robinson, the Pullman Neighborhood Council, and the community to honor and preserve the legacy of the International Hotel as an integral part of our Black history and Richmond's broader historical tapestry.Often, individuals like Ethel Dotson Naomi Williams, the Myrtle Braxtons, the Duane Chapmans of the world stand alone as trailblazers, lighting the way for others to follow, while others bask in the glory of the shine of their battles. They battled for the changes that others take credit for. They are the keepers of our history. Their dedication and passion for the community deserve our utmost respect and admiration. It also commands our attention. It is with this spirit that I implore our local leadership to embrace a vision that honors the historic significance of the International Hotel.
Robinson underscored the importance of keeping the property privately owned and not ending up managed by the government.
"It's important the project not be taken out of the hands of the neighborhood or Hartman; we don't want to strip him of ownership. We want to honor the land and make sure it's not taken over by government entities," Robinson said.
Robinson also made it clear this is not her project but that of the neighborhood, and she is working to support their effort and provide them with a connection to resources.
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