Miami’s Historic Hampton House ‘was the place to be from the get-go’

Originally opened in the mid-’50s as the Booker Terrace Motel, named after Booker T. Washington, the hotel was sold and rebranded in 1961 as the Hampton House Hotel, with renovations to the hotel rooms, lobby, and pool area, and amenities such as maître-d service, valet parking, and a 24-hour restaurant and lounge.

“The Hampton House was the place to be from the get-go,” said the preservationist Dr. Enid Curtis Pinkney, 91, a native Miamian who grew up during the time of segregation. “All the [Black] celebrities who came to Miami wanted to stay at the Hampton House because it was quite an elegant place.”

Indeed, the famous jazz musicians of the era, barred from staying at the upscale hotels in Miami Beach where they performed, would pack their instruments and head to the Hampton House in Brownsville, an African American enclave outside of Miami’s more crowded Overtown neighborhood. The roster of performers who played to integrated audiences in The Lounge reads like a Who’s Who of the era — Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Sarah Vaughn, Cannonball Adderley, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Wilson, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Nancy Wilson, and dozens more. As does the audience who went to hear them — baseball legend Jackie Robinson, football star Jim Brown, Berry Gordy of Motown Records, and boxers Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali.

Visitors to the Historic Hampton House can view the historically-styled room where Martin Luther King Jr. stayed on multiple occasions in the 1960s, when King made the Hampton House his unofficial headquarters in Miami. Necee Regis

Not just a celebrity jazz club, The Lounge also showcased local talent, featuring a house band named Mod Soul, and was a popular hangout for neighborhood residents on weekend evenings and after church on Sundays.

“On Sunday evenings the lounge would have live jazz, and the gentleman that played in the lounge would allow us youngsters to come in and sit in on the jazz tunes,” said native Miamian and trumpet player Winston Scott.

Though Scott eventually chose a different career path than music, the retired US Navy captain, Naval aviator, fighter pilot, and astronaut who flew two space shuttle missions still fondly remembers spending time at the Hampton House, saying he “learned how to play music by sitting in with the professionals.”

Living up to its reputation as “the social center of the South,” the Hampton House Hotel also attracted individuals and organizations connected to the Civil Rights Movement. It was here that The Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) held weekly meetings seeking a nonviolent end to segregation.

Visitors to Miami’s Historic Hampton House can view the historically-styled room where Muhammad Ali stayed. Necee Regis

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were among the hotel’s notable visitors. During the ‘60s, King made the Hampton House an unofficial headquarters, giving an early version of his “I Have a Dream” speech at a C.O.R.E. sponsored event, holding a press conference to state his opposition to the Vietnam War, and throwing his support to Operation Breadbox, a campaign to support Black-owned businesses. Visitors today can visit the modest, reconstructed room where King stayed, with its small kitchenette overlooking the pool patio, and view photos of him relaxing in The Lounge with other luminaries of the era.

On display at the Historic Hampton House in Miami, a portrait by artist Raymond Elman of Khalilah Ali, who visited at the hotel on multiple occasions with her husband, Muhammad Ali. Raymond Elman

One of the more acclaimed moments at the hotel occurred on Feb. 25, 1964. After Muhammad Ali (then still called Cassius Clay) shocked the boxing world by defeating defending world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center, he celebrated his win at the Hampton House with friends Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown, an evening that inspired the play and subsequent movie “One Night in Miami.” The evening was also captured in an iconic image, on display in the museum, of Malcolm X snapping a photo of Ali sitting at The Lounge’s counter surrounded by friends and fans. (It is reported that Ali celebrated his win with a bowl of ice cream.)

Ali and his wife Khalilah visited at the hotel on multiple occasions, and one can tour the historically-styled room where they stayed. A photo of the couple, sitting with their 6-month old daughter Miriam near the Hampton House pool, graced the cover of Ebony magazine in 1969.

Muhammad Ali and his wife Khalilah, sitting with their 6-month old daughter Miriam near the Hampton House pool in Miami, graced the cover of Ebony magazine in 1969.Necee Regis

“The Hampton House was considered like the Waldorf Astoria for artists because anybody who was anybody stayed there,” said Khalilah Ali.

“I met Frank Sinatra, who came over to the Hampton House with Milton Berle and Henny Youngman when they were performing on the beach,” said Ali. “[Sinatra] would get on the bus and go over to the beach with the Black artists. It was something that Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle fought for, to give the rights for the Black artists to live on the beach, in the hotels, as performers. It was an honor to meet Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.”

The hotel eventually closed its doors in 1976.

The room where Martin Luther King Jr. stayed at the Historic Hampton House. Necee Regis

“With integration, the Hampton House became a derelict building for about 30 years,” said Pinkney, the preservationist. Using her persuasive networking skills, Pinckney rallied a coalition of politicians, preservationists, historians, and business people to convince the Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board to declare the property a historical landmark, which they did in 2002, thus saving it from demolition.

In 2015, the Historic Hampton House started its renovations, and today functions as both a museum and a community and educational center. Visitors can tour historic rooms, public spaces, and see various permanent and changing exhibitions that explore the rich history of the hotel and Miami’s Black community. The Hampton House also celebrates its inclusion in the Green Book, a reference used by Black travelers to find accepting hotels, restaurants, and gas stations during the Jim Crow era.

The Historic Hampton House in Miami displays the iconic image of Malcolm X (left) snapping a photo of Muhammad Ali (right) sitting at The Lounge’s counter, surrounded by friends and fans, on the night Ali defeated defending world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center.Necee Regis

One project on exhibition features seven 40-by-60-inch mixed media portraits of people, some now in their 70s and 80s, who patronized the hotel in its heyday. The work was the brainchild of Miami artist (and former Bostonian) Raymond Elman who, after learning of the Hampton House’s storied history, received an Ellies Award from Oolite Arts to create and record video interviews with each subject. On completion, Elman donated them all to the Historic Hampton House. The exhibited portraits include wall texts with QR codes that link to each subject’s interview, available via Inspicio Arts, an online arts publication platform sponsored by FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts, where Elman is the founding editor in chief. Videos are also directly available online:

At the Historic Hampton House, photos of jazz legends who performed in The Lounge surround the swimming pool. Raymond Elman

Not simply an homage to the past, the Historic Hampton House is continually evolving. Future plans for the property include a new jazz club, onsite café, photo and artifact archives, and a virtual reality film short by filmmaker Qasim Basir that will enable visitors to experience the challenges of traveling as a person of color in the United States.

Historic Hampton House, 4240 NW 27th Ave., Miami. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Three tours available Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets $25 per tour for up to four guests. $15 for students and those over age 55. 305-638-5800,

Necee Regis can be reached at [email protected].

The lobby of the restored Historic Hampton House in Miami.Necee Regis

Necee Regis can be reached at [email protected].

Source link