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4/18/02 - Miami Herald

Segregation-era black hotel designated a historic entity Hampton House may be saved

By Anabelle de Gale

There's hope for the Hampton House.

The Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board on Wednesday handed a major victory to local activists working to save the landmark Brownsville hotel -- once the social and cultural epicenter of black Miami during segregation.

The seven board members present voted unanimously to designate the Hampton House a historic site.

The move was a major triumph for preservationists, who have been rallying since last year to raise the $450,000 needed to purchase the now-crumbling motel at 4240 NW 27th Ave.


''This is a building that represents a pivotal and crucial time not only in this community but this country,'' said Ivan A. Rodriguez, interim director of the county's historic preservation office, which recommended to the board that the site be designated historic.

''We were very encouraged by what we heard at the meeting today,'' Rodriguez said. ``The community support is there. We're not just designating it and praying for the best.''

Built in 1953, the two-story Hampton House did not meet the normal 50 years or older requirement for historic designation, meaning petitioners had to prove it was of ``exceptional significance.''

Under the county's preservation ordinance, the designation has the power to block demolition -- something the condemned site barely escaped last December, when Dade Heritage Trust learned that a permit to tear it down had been issued and successfully fought for an extension.

Since that time, a group led by Enid Pinkney -- president of Dade Heritage Trust's African American Committee -- formed the Historic Hampton House Community Trust to work to save what Pinkney calls Miami's ``forgotten treasure.''

''The next step will be to acquire the property,'' said Pinkney, who is relying on individual donors, fundraisers and grants to help raise the money to restore the old hotel and use it as an educational center and tourist attraction.

The hotel's owner, Simon Trojecki, who said he has paid more than $10,000 in fines for building code violations since purchasing the property in 1996, had wanted to demolish the structure and sell the land to developers.


But Wednesday, Trojecki's attorney, Stanley Price, told the board he supported the designation and wanted to cooperate with the Hampton Trust.

''We would like to sit down and work out a reasonable time schedule,'' Price said.

The landmark hotel once played host to the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin and Count Basie, who performed at ritzy whites-only Miami Beach hotels but were not allowed to stay there.

Malcolm X often slept there, as did Cassius Clay, now Muhammad Ali.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Hampton House was also a hub of civil rights activity. Martin Luther King Jr. often spent the night in Room 51, after holding news conferences in the hotel lobby.