Richmond's historic International Hotel burned down one year ago, plans for property uncertain

Richmond's historic International Hotel burned down one year ago, plans for property uncertain
Richmond's Historic International Hotel sits waiting one year after a devastating fire. Photos/ Linda Hemmila

Behind a cement barrier and chainlink fence sits the charred remains of one of Richmond's important historical assets: the International Hotel. Destroyed in a raging blaze a year ago this week, the scorched wooden framework continues to deteriorate and can be seen listing above the fencing along with the piles of garbage and assorted abandoned junk that has gathered around it.

Early on the morning of April 24 of last year, a fire ripped through the building with enough intensity that it took firefighters some time to get it under control. Richmond Fire Inspector Dante Wiley said that investigators were not able to determine the cause of the fire, but interviews with neighbors indicated there may have been people camping in or around the building.

Located at 396 South Street in Richmond's Pullman neighborhood, the International Hotel was built around 1915 and sat about a block east of the Pullman Hotel, near the Pullman Rail Car Shops. The International Hotel served the Black Pullman Porters during their layovers in Richmond in the 1920s. It is also said to be the location where porters began discussing forming a union, which may have led to the creation of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded in New York City in 1925.

Red-tagged, along with neighboring structures following the fire, the historic hotel was quickly slated for demolition, but that plan was paused to allow the city to contact the property owner. City of Richmond Planning Manager Hector Rojas said last May that the demolition orders were on hold while the city waited for the property owner to state his intentions.

Richmond activist Ethel Dotson owned the historic property and hoped to have it landmarked one day. But that vision failed to take shape, and when Dotson died in 2007, the property was transferred to her son, Kariti Eric Hartman, who was living next door to the old hotel at the time of the fire.

Last fall, District 3 Councilmember Doria Robinson, who represents the Pullman Neighborhood, hosted a meeting with the neighborhood council, Hartman, and a handful of others interested in exploring the future of the property as well as the two adjacent homes also damaged by the fire.

Pullman Neighborhood hosts discussion about historic International Hotel property
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

Following that meeting, Robinson said that one idea that came out of the discussion was to link the property to Richmond's labor history by creating a labor center focused on that narrative. Another suggestion was turning the property into a cultural center dedicated to telling the history of the hotel and the neighborhood surrounding it.

But so far, no plans have materialized, and neither has any signs of impending clean-up, leaving the property, along with the remains of the rickety wood-frame structure and debris, to fester.

Robinson said clean-up of the property would be costly and that Hartman didn't have the funds necessary to pay for it, leaving questions about where funding for demolition and debris removal would come from.

Director of Community Development Lina Velasco said she didn't have any new information because the property is privately owned. Nor did Planning Manager Hector Rojas, who told Grandview he heard there have been inquiries about the property.

"I have heard from several of our planners that people are asking about what could be built there once the fire-damaged structure is demolished," Rojas said.

Grandview reached out to Councilmember Robinson for an update but has not yet received a reply.

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