Richmond’s historic International Hotel destroyed in fire

Councilmember seeks plan for fire-ravaged International Hotel property
Image of the fire-ravaged International Hotel courtesy of Richmond Firefighters Local 188.

The historic International Hotel building in Richmond, which once housed Black porters who had been barred from staying at a nearby, since-demolished white-only hotel, was tragically destroyed in a three-alarm fire Monday morning, according to Richmond Firefighters Local 188, the union representing Richmond’s firefighters.

Local 188 provided footage from the firefight at the historic structure in the 396 Ethel Dotson Street, which was reported about 6 a.m. Monday. Firefighters arrived to find the two-story building well-involved in fire, with both adjacent residences exposed to the growing flames.

The severity of the fire prompted an exterior defensive fire attack, as well as a third alarm response for additional resources. Despite their efforts to gain control of the flames, the majority of the main structure was lost to the fire and both adjacent residences sustained significant damages, according to Local 188.

With help from El Cerrito and ConFire, the fire was brought under control within about 45 minutes, although officials remained at the scene late into the afternoon to extinguish hotspots and stabilize the area.

While no injuries were reported, multiple families were displaced. A cause of the fire wasn’t immediately reported.

“The loss of this large building is significant to our community as it held historical status being the once bustling International Hotel,” fire officials said. “Richmond firefighters along with the rest of our community are saddened by its sudden and catastrophic demise.”

In September 2021, the street where the 20-room hotel is located, formerly South Street, was renamed Ethel Dotson Street after the former manager and owner of the 20-room hotel. According to city and the Pullman Neighborhood Council, the hotel was built by A. Phillip Randolph to house the black Pullman Porters who weren’t allowed to stay at the Pullman Hotel during the layovers while the Pullman railcars were being serviced. The building would also serve as an after-hours joint and night club, where celebrities would gather to entertain porters during the WWII era. It was also a site for much organizing and socializing that eventually led to the establishment of the national Brotherhood of Black Sleeping Car Railroad Porters Union. For more on the hotel’s history, read Standard reporter Mike Kinney’s article here.