This Guidebook Helped African Americans Find a Hotel Along Segregation-Era Route 66

Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2016

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The Hayes might not be much to look at today, but it’s considered such a valuable element of Los Angeles history that it is being listed in an inventory of structures significant to the city’s past.

In particular, the Hayes was a refuge for African American travelers who made their way west on the legendary cross-country highway U.S. Route 66, guided by a rich and illuminating travel publication known as the Negro Motorist Green Book. The motel was among 224 Los Angeles hotels, barbershops, beauty salons, taverns, motels and other places the guide deemed friendly to blacks traveling America’s highways.

The inventory, led by Los Angeles officials in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute, will help lay the groundwork for rehabilitation and protection of significant historic structures. Some, including Green Book destinations still standing, could be designated as L.A. Historic-Cultural Monuments.

“At the very least, these sites can be incorporated into our city’s online inventory system,” said Ken Bernstein, principal planner for the Los Angeles Department of City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources. “They are part of the story of African Americans in Los Angeles, and the story of Los Angeles itself writ large.”

The Green Book was created by Victor H. Green, a postal service worker from Harlem, N.Y., who began publishing the guide in 1936 to help African Americans avoid, as he put it, “embarrassing moments” after motorists started exploring long-distance roadways including Route 66, the nation’s first transcontinental highway.

Most of the 224 Los Angeles sites have been razed or put to other uses. But 56 survivors include landmarks such as the Biltmore Hotel, Clifton’s Cafeteria and the Dunbar Hotel, where famous figures such as Lena Horne, Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and others would stay when they visited the city because white hotels would not house them.

There were also dozens of lesser known welcoming locales, including the Hayes, the Aster Motel and a modest wood-framed house in the 1200 block of South New Hampshire Street listed in the guide as the residence of “Mrs. J. O. Banks.”

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The world’s largest collection of Green Books is archived at New York City Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: 23 issues published between 1937 and 1966, when the travel guide folded. High definition images of the books are offered on a center website.

A year ago, a copy of a 1941 edition of the Green Book sold at auction for $22,000 to the Smithsonian Institution.

“It’s almost a miracle that there is such a diverse physical legacy of Green Book properties,” said Frank Norris, a historian with the National Park Service’s National Trails office, which oversees the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. “I expect to see a number of these structures nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.”

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