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Motel where black stars stayed rises again, slowly

Motel where black stars stayed rises again, slowly

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GREENSBORO — The project to restore a reminder of the segregation era in Greensboro seems to be lasting as long as the era.

But those close to the Magnolia House Motel restoration say progress is being made.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Magnolia from the 1940s through the early 1960s was one of the few places black visitors could stay overnight.

Guests at the big Victorian-style house at Gorrell and Plott streets included Ray Charles, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, and baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige.

Restoration on the dilapidated house began seven years ago in the late 1990s when neighborhood residents Sam and Kimberly Pass bought it.

They encountered obstacles but received a big boost from Preservation Greensboro and its subsidiary, Architectural Salvage.

As a show of commitment to preservation in historically black southeast Greensboro, Preservation Greensboro and Architectural Salvage each donated $5,000 to Magnolia House.

“It is an important component of Greensboro’s history, and it’s still a resource for the city,’’ said the Preservation Greensboro executive director, Benjamin Briggs.

When done, Sam Pass says, the house will again offer lodging, plus it will serve breakfast and lunch to the public.

In addition, he says, an education component will be started to attract “blue chip’’ high school and college students as interns. They would learn hotel management, food service and entrepreneurial skills.

He says the Preservation Greensboro and Architectural Salvage donations provide the project prestige that may open doors.

“When we approach corporations for help, it makes it easier for them to say yes,’’ Pass says.

He says it will take $325,000 to $340,000 to complete the restoration.

The nonprofit group in charge plans to offer packets of ribs or steaks or chicken and a bib to all who donate $100 or more.

The first phase stabilized the house, including a new roof and, Pass says, “replacing every piece of dead wood in the structure.’’ The work was done with two federal grants totaling $110,600, administered through City Hall. Another grant, of about $30,000, came from N.C. A&T , which is helping revitalize the Gorrell Street area.

The Magnolia House was built in 1889 as a private residence for the white Plott family when parts of Gorrell Street were a white neighborhood.

By the end of World War II, African Americans occupied most of Gorrell. A black couple, Arthur and Louise Gist, bought the Plott house and turned it into the Magnolia.

The Passes bought the dilapidated house from the widow of the late state Rep. Herman Gist, who inherited it.

The couple created a nonprofit, but because banks weren’t eager to loan money to nonprofits after several went bankrupt in southeast Greensboro, the nonprofit has deeded the house back to the Passes. The couple leases the house to the nonprofit.

The Passes will seek a construction loan to complete the project. It will be paid with donations and, if needed, revenue generated by the house.

When Sam Pass was a youngster, his brother took him to the Magnolia to meet Joe Tex, a black rhythm and blues star.

Tex, whose recordings include “You Got What It Takes,” probably was one of the last overnight guests. Integration freed African Americans to stay elsewhere.

After that, the Magnolia became a boarding house. Pass estimates it closed in the early 1980s. He would love to find the old registration book with signatures of famous overnight guests. It would be displayed .

If all goes well, he says, the final phase will start in January, with completion in late spring.

Pass loves to collect stories about the house and its guests. One neighborhood resident said James Brown, the Godfather of soul, played baseball in the streets with children when he stayed at the Magnolia.

Contact Jim Schlosser at

373-7081 or jschlosser


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