By Jess Abrahamson, Anchor/Producer/Reporter - bio | email
ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) Perhaps you drive right by these four old brick walls on North Broadway in your rush to get downtown. But the stories these walls could tell!
"The Avalon was built by Sam Sternberg as a Kosher Hotel," said historian Alan Calavano.
That was in 1915. The Northwestern Hotel would get a new name and a new clientele in 1944. A man by the name of Verne Manning came all the way from Washington state to bring his wife to Mayo Clinic. He quickly learned his options on where to stay here were very limited.
"There were only two private homes that Blacks were able to stay at that were run by elderly women. He was from Seattle. He had a restaurant in Seattle and thought this would be a good place to start a hotel for blacks," said Calavano.
So the Northwestern became the Avalon and business was booming.
"Duke Ellington and his band took over the whole hotel-32 rooms. The Ink Spots stayed there. Henry Armstrong who was a boxing great. When the color barriers started to fall, it was mostly influenced by 1954 anti-discrimination laws. Lawyers, doctors and those of other higher social status were the ones finding rooms in the hotels before some of the less famous blacks were," said Calavano.
Roy Watson served as President of the Kahler Hotel Corporation. He remembers greeting the first black guests in the back of the building.
"Those who came and stayed at the Kahler went up the back elevator and that's the way they went," said Watson. "I took Joe Lewis up the back elevator one time. It was just the beginning of acceptance of black patients at Mayo."
"Dr. Mayo, as they put the corner stone on the Mayo Building, said this facility will be open to all people regardless of color or creed or regardless of ethnicity and there will not be discrimination in providing health care," said Rochester City Council member Sandra Means.
Not all times at the Hotel were peaceful. In 1963, some local boys threw a burning cross in front of the Avalon. But that didn't stop Verne Manning from welcoming white guests. Manning told the Post Bulletin in 1973, "I'd discriminate if they had whiskey on their breath or were too dirty, but not because of color."
Today the rooms that once held guests are used for lesson space at Avalon Music. I can't help but wonder, what would these old walls say if they could speak?
"I think they would say thank you Verne Manning for making this opportunity available so I could perform and I can get the good healthcare and hopefully in the future I won't have to be restricted to one area or section of town," said Means.
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