Plan in works to preserve International Hotel’s Black history

Plan in works to preserve International Hotel’s Black history
Richmond City Councilmember Doria Robinson updates the Council on planning for the future of the International Hotel site. (Image courtesy of the City of Richmond).

By Kathy Chouteau

From the ashes of Richmond’s fire-ravaged International Hotel, a phoenix may soon rise.

During the Tues., Nov. 28 Richmond City Council meeting, Councilmember Doria Robinson recounted a recent meeting with the Pullman Neighborhood Council about possible future plans to preserve the property’s history by building a community center and historical museum at the site.

The International Hotel at 396 Ethel Dotson St. burned down in a three-alarm-fire in April 2023. The hotel once housed Black Pullman porters who worked the railroad and were barred from staying at a nearby, since-demolished white-only hotel.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Robinson shared news of her “powerful meeting” with Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and President Naomi Williams of the Pullman Neighborhood Council. She noted the group met with numerous community members who are “really interested in making sure that the history of the Pullman porters isn’t forgotten.”

Among those attending the meeting was the unnamed son of the site’s owner, Ethel Dotson, who relayed their collective vision of preserving the porters’ history, per Councilmember Robinson.

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

Robinson said that the group is moving forward on info gathering about possibly building on the site, to include a community center and a historical museum that not only would incorporate Richmond’s Black history, but also union history. The group is also looking into zoning, as well as connecting to different elected officials, the railroad and the existing Pullman porters union.

Plans are in the works for the group to meet again at the Pullman Neighborhood Council meeting in January 2024. “If you want to get involved with this project, if you have something to offer, if you might have any resources, please do come to that meeting,” said Councilmember Robinson, who added that she will continue to update the City Council.

Connect with Councilmember Robinson’s office here.