The movie Green Book, which is up for Best Picture at tonight’s Academy Awards, is not without its flaws, historical and otherwise. Based on a (supposedly) true story, it’s an interracial buddy-comedy-drama about an African American classical pianist and the white chauffeur who drove him around on tour in 1962. Critics have pointed out the narrative’s Magical Negro aspect, and the pianist’s family has condemned the story as a “symphony of lies” that exaggerates the protagonists’ relationship—friends, as opposed to employer-employee—and makes the pianist, the late Donald Shirley, appear distant from his family when he was not. (The movie was co-written by the late chauffeur’s son.)
Regardless, the Green Book itself—specifically, The Negro Motorist Green Book—was a real thing. Starting in 1937—many websites peg the first edition to 1936, but it appears to be copyrighted in 1937—Victor Green published a directory of places throughout the country that were welcoming to African Americans. The first year was confined to New York City, but after that, it expanded nationally. A version of the Green Book stayed in print until 1967, by which time it had been rebranded as an international edition. Each edition, Green wrote, was designed “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.”
“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published,” Green wrote in the introduction to the 1949 edition. “That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.”
From 1938 until the last edition, North Carolina featured prominently in the Green Book, its major metros having a handful of places in which it was safe for black travelers to go. We looked at three editions—1938, 1947, and 1962, the year in which the movie is set—and tried to see what’s become of the buildings noted in that book in Raleigh and Durham. For some properties, we were able to find more information that others—the website Open Durham has preserved an enormous catalog of that city’s history, which proved enormously helpful. For others, we weren’t so lucky. If you know anything more about the histories of these structures, please contact us and let us know.
Biltmore Hotel (322 East Pettigrew Street)
Built in 1929, the Biltmore advertised itself as “America’s Finest Colored Hotel,” and played home to black artists, musicians, tourists, and celebrities in Durham’s Hayti neighborhood—Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and more. It fell into hard times after integration and was razed in 1977. Today, the land, just southeast of Roxboro Street, is a parking lot.
Jones Hotel (502 Ramsey Street)
The Jones Hotel, also in Hayti, was established sometime before 1907. According to the website Open Durham, the hotel appears to have gone out of business at some point in the 1940s (it was still listed in the Green Book as of 1947). The property deteriorated until through the mid-sixties, when it (and Ramsey Street) was demolished as part of urban renewal. The land then sat vacant until 1993, when it became the parking lot of a Chevrolet dealership.
Mrs. Mary Sims (909 Fayetteville Street): The houses at 909, 911, and 1003 Fayetteville Street (now called Old Fayetteville Street) were demolished in 1965 and replaced with Tin City, a home for Hayti businesses displaced by urban renewal. The building now houses The Carolina Times newspaper.
Mrs. S.A. Morris (902 Fayetteville Street:) This is now a shopping center.
Mrs. N. O’Daniel (1005 Fayetteville Street): Interestingly, this block-size house was built by and once belonged to John O’Daniel, who was the slave of the Carr family (and possibly Julian’s half-brother). By the 1940s, the O’Daniels had stopped living there, and it was rented out until 1965, when it was demolished, then turned into part of a housing project that was later abandoned and is now waiting to be redeveloped.
The Arcade Hotel (122 East Hargett Street): During Jim Crow, East Hargett became the epicenter of Raleigh’s black business community, and in 1921, businessman Calvin Lightner built the Lightner Arcade Hotel, which for several decades was the only hotel in the city that catered to African Americans and also the center of Raleigh’s black cultural community. It counted among its guests Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, according to the website Goodnight Raleigh. Lightner eventually lost ownership of the building, but the Arcade Hotel persisted until the late forties, when the NC Homemakers Association acquired the building and changed the hotel’s name to the Home Eckers Hotel. Later, it became the Peebles Hotel until the building was destroyed by a fire in 1970. Now the site is occupied by the city’s municipal bus depot.
Biltmore Hotel: See above.
Jones Hotel: See above.
Congo Grill (Pettigrew Street): This building, at 400 East Pettigrew Street, housed a number of tenants from about 1940 to about 1980, of which Congo was probably the second. The building lasted longer than a lot of its neighbors, but it too was demolished by the early eighties. The land is now a parking lot for Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolet.
Catlett’s (1502 Pettigrew Street): This property is now a residential house owned by Southern Repair Service Incorp and valued at $77,080, according to Durham County property records.
Elvira’s (801 Fayetteville Street): Elvira’s Blue Tavern (the Green Book also listed this under taverns) moved to Pettigrew Street in the late forties, and this building subsequently became a beauty salon and a dentist’s office before being torn down in the early seventies.
De Shazors (809 Fayetteville Street): In 1945, Brooklyn transplant “Madam” Jacqueline DeShazor, the proprietor of DeShazor’s Beauty College, which had opened in this building in 1936, bought it for $42,000. The building stood until sometime around 1970.
D’Orsay (120 S. Magnum Street): This building was eventually torn down to make way for The Loop and surface parking. Nice work, everyone.
Friendly (711 Fayetteville Street): The barbershop was next door to a surgeon’s office and then, after the surgeon died, a dentist’s office. By 1970, these businesses had been replaced by Project Outreach and the Durham Business and Professional Chain. By 1974, it had been torn down. The site is now someone’s front yard.
Blue Tavern (801 Fayetteville Street): See Elvira’s.
Hollywood (118 South Magnum Street): This tavern was in the same building as the D’Orsay beauty parlor.
Granite (Main and Ninth Street): Originally the site of a Methodist church (which had moved in the early forties), this service station was torn down in the mid-fifties and replaced with a more modern version, with a paint store on the remainder of the original church site. It’s now a BP.
Midway (Pine and Poplar Street): We couldn’t find anything on this one.
Pine Street (1102 Pine Street): This, too, is an address that no longer seems to exist.
Union (112 Parrish Street): This shop existed in the building, built in 1920 and now valued at $1.2 million, that sits across the street from the new One City Center. It’s currently home to the Historic Parrish Street Forum and the NC Institute of Minority Economic Development.
Royal (538 East Pettigrew Street): This building housed Royal Dry Cleaners from its opening in 1938 and 1968, when Royal was replaced by a short-lived restaurant. Within a couple of years, the building had been demolished. The land is still vacant.
Lewis (220 East Cabarrus Street): According to an application for the East Raleigh-South Park neighborhood’s historic placement designation, the Lewis Hotel was built in 1923 to accommodate Raleigh’s African American community. Today, it appears to be a parking lot.
Arcade Hotel: See above.
B&H Cafe (411 South Blount Street): The site of this restaurant is now a downtown condo building.
Chicken Shack (Cross and Lake Street): We couldn’t find anything on this one.
Sales (222 South Tarboro Street): This site is now a residential neighborhood.
Savoy (410 South Blount Street): The site of this tavern is now a condo building.
Capitol (Phone 9137): There is still a Capital Cab in Raleigh, but we don’t know if they’re related. The number sure isn’t the same.
Peerless (103 West Jones Street): This site sat across the street from the legislative building in what apparently is now the SECU building.
Progressive (spelled Provressive) (Smithfield and Bloodworth Streets): Couldn’t find any info on this.
Richardson & Smith (108 East Lenoir Street): This now appears to be a parking lot.
DeShazor’s Hostelry (809 Fayetteville Street): See above.
Bull City Restaurant (412 Pettigrew Street): The Bull City Cafe shared space with a barbershop that remained open until the building was razed in 1977.
College Inn Restaurant (1306 Fayetteville Street): The building was likely constructed around 1935, and College Inn was probably here from then until 1950. Since 2005, it’s been home to the restaurant New Visions of Africa.
Biltmore Hotel (322 East Pettigrew Street): See above.
Bloodsworth Street Tourist Home (424 South Bloodsworth Street): This property now appears to be a vacant lot. It’s two doors down from The Guest House, a first boutique hotel in an 1880s house moved six blocks to this location by husband-and-wife team Matt Tomasulo and Nicole Alvarez.
DeLuxe Hotel (220 East Cabarrus Street): At some point, the Lewis Hotel was apparently renamed the DeLuxe Hotel.
Home Eckers Hotel: (122 East Hargett Street): See Arcade Hotel.
Legion Home Restaurant (416 East Cabarrus Street): This site is today a vacant lot owned by the city of Raleigh and valued at $80,000.
New York Restaurant (108 East Hargett Street): This building now houses The Architect Bar.
Stanton’s Cafe-Restaurant (319 South East Street): This site is now a single-family home.
Starksville Guest House (809 East Bragg Street): This site now holds a four-unit building constructed in 1970, remodeled in 1980, and taken over by the city of Raleigh in 1998.
YMCA (600 South Bloodworth Street): A block-long building constructed in 1989, this was the Boy’s Dormitory for the State School for the Negro Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, and was the only building from that school that still stood as of 1990. It’s now a parking lot.
The two gas stations on Pine Street in Durham you are uncertain about were located within a block of each other on what is now South Roxboro Street. The Midway was on the southwest corner of (now) Dillard and Roxboro, catty-corner to the Pine Street Presbyterian Church. You can see the station on sheet 201 of the 1937-1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. The Pine Street station was alongside the Venable, just south of the railroad tracks and Pettigrew Street. Both have been demolished.
The Chicken Shack in Raleigh was off Poole Road. The building is visible on the southeast corner of Cross Street and (now) Fisher Street on Sheet 104 of the 1914-1950 Raleigh Sanborns. It is no longer extant.
Progressive Tailors in Raleigh was located opposite of South Bloodworth along (now) MLK Jr. Boulevard, near Shaw University. It’s gone. You can see the building footprint on Sheet 44 of the 1914-1950 Sanborns.
There were 41 unique Durham entries and 34 unique Raleigh entries over the 30-year run of the Green Book. The entire state of North Carolina had nearly 330 unique places listed. Roughly two-thirds of these establishments are known to be demolished. Urban Renewal took a large number of them in Durham and Raleigh.
Only four in Durham remain, and you’ve identified three: Catlett’s College Inn, and Union Tailors. Thompson’s Service Station at 2425 Fayetteville Street is also still around. There are a couple question marks from Raleigh, including the Nile-Congo Restaurant on Route 70/Garner Road. Surely someone still remembers that place!
The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, housed within the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, has been engaged for over a year with a Green Book project called “Oasis Spaces”: African American Travel in NC, 1936-1966. They are in the midst of documenting extant Green Book entries across the state and are researching some others that have since been demolished, often relying upon the local knowledge of residents in the community. Please contact the Commission if you have personal connections and stories about these Green Book entries.
Pine Street Presbyterian: http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/pine-street-presbyterian
Sanborn Sheet 201: https://bit.ly/2E66nvC
Pine Street station: http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/201-s-roxboro-st
Sanborn Sheet 104: https://bit.ly/2tCpuIY
Sanborn Sheet 44: https://bit.ly/2tEoYdr
Comments are closed.