Gaines Hall
Gaines Hall has continued to deteriorate since it burned in August 2015 (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

By Maria Saporta

For nearly five years, the city of Atlanta has been in a legal battle with Clark Atlanta University over the ownership rights of nearly 13 acres of land in the heart of Westside community.

On April 18, the two sides lay down their arms and agreed to a settlement where the city agreed to pay $750,000 in legal fees that CAU had incurred due to the litigation (in which CAU won every case).

The end of the litigation provides a clean slate for the city to begin working with CAU and the other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the Atlanta University Center to save the area’s precious history and create a vibrant community.

Gaines Hall
Gaines Hall has continued to deteriorate since it burned in August 2015 (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Two historic structures are particularly significant and in need of urgent attention – the historic Paschal’s Restaurant/Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Gaines Hall, one of the oldest buildings in Atlanta that was significantly damaged in a fire in August 2015, when the city controlled the building.

Clark Atlanta owns the historic Paschal’s, which needs a great deal of tender, love and care. And Gaines Hall was part of the property that was subject to the legal tug-of-war between the city and CAU.

It has been disheartening to see virtually no progress to preserve these two historic gems over the past five plus years.

Paschal’s was a motel that served the black guests at a time when segregation provided limited options for people of color. Over the years, Paschal’s restaurant had become a defacto headquarters for the civil rights movement. It was a favorite gathering spot for civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr.

The history of Gaines Hall dates back to when it was built in 1869 to serve students attending Atlanta University (which later merged with Clark College to become Clark Atlanta University).

Noted African-American scholar and author W.E.B. Dubois was living in Gaines Hall in 1903 when he wrote the book: The Soul of Black Folk, which played a vital role in the way the nation viewed race.

”Historic Gaines Hall and Paschal’s restaurant and hotel – along with other institutional landmarks on Atlanta’s Westside – are revered by people throughout the Atlanta community because these irreplaceable buildings help us to share the unique heritage of our city and, importantly, to tell the full American story, from the heroes of the Civil Rights movement to the triumphs of our historically Black universities and colleges,” said Leslie Canaan, senior officer for National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Atlanta Field Office.

A view of Paschal’s Motor Hotel (Photo by Kelly Jordan)
A view of Paschal’s Motor Hotel (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“Today, the priority must be to physically stabilize each building to stop ongoing deterioration,” Canaan continued in an email. “This will open the door for their stewards to explore new ways to put these nationally significant landmarks back into productive use for the Atlanta community.”

Several encouraging signs exist that the city of Atlanta, the Atlanta University Center, the Westside Future Fund and preservationists will be able to begin stabilizing the two fragile historic structures.

Todd Greene, executive director of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, is working with the four HBCUs – Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University – to find ways they can collaborate and improve the surrounding community.

The AUC Consortium is working with the architectural firm – Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) – to develop a master vision for the AUC campus that will provide draft recommendations by the end of May.

One of its main guiding principles is to “preserve our history and celebrate our culture,” Greene said. The goal will be to get the various universities and other stakeholders to work together to “activate the community” and leverage their individual assets for the greater good.

“There are a couple of developers who have ideas on how to preserve Gaines Hall,” Greene said.

It is unclear whether the city of Atlanta’s development arm – Invest Atlanta – has worked out an agreement with Clark Atlanta of how to invest the insurance funds from the Gaines Hall fire to stabilize the building. And it is even less clear whether the city will play a major role in preserving the building to the state it was in before the fire.

Fountain Hall
Fountain Hall, which is part of the Morris Brown campus, also needs to be preserved (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

But both buildings can and should be centerpieces for the rejuvenation of the Westside community. Numerous corporations, nonprofits and foundations have targeted the Westside as part of a coordinated effort to welcome new economic development without displacing current residents or destroying the area’s history.

“I have to give a lot of kudos to Todd Greene,” said John Ahmann, president of the Westside Future Fund about the AUC Consortium’s master visioning plan. “We are happy to collaborate and support their work.”

As for preserving Paschal’s and Gaines Hall, Ahmann said everybody who knows about Atlanta’s HBCU and civil rights history understands the significance of Paschal’s and Gaines Hall.

A key element of the Westside’s Land Use Framework Plan “is the preservation of the cultural and historic sites. The challenge is to come up with plans for adaptive reuse of those buildings in a way that would lift up the community and their history.

“I have witnessed and experienced a level of intentionality and commitment from the leaders to both integrate and lift up the wonderful assets of the HBCU schools,” Ahmann said.. “To the extent there can be a spirit of cooperation and partnership between Clark Atlanta and the city, that’s a great path forward.”

A boarded up Paschal’s Motor Lodge represents what’s wrong with Atlanta not preserving its past (Photo by Maria Saporta)
A boarded up Paschal’s Motor Lodge represents what’s wrong with Atlanta not preserving its past (Photo by Maria Saporta)
Gaines Hall 2013
Before the fire: A boarded up Gaines Hall awaits its fate in 2013. (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news...

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  1. Good piece, Maria. Keep up the pressure, They’re both worthy of saving. I’m not old enough to have been around when Du Bois was writing in Gaines Hall, but I have made fond memories of Paschal’s beginning in 1965.
    P.S. Glad to see y6ou’re in the new Leadership Atlanta class

  2. Well, you know, maybe the history of Atlanta is just mediocre stuff. Man how let down the whole world is when they visit the varsity. TN and FL both have much better southern food and don’t need to make a fuss to ‘preserve’ some oddball notion of a glorious past. The diverse and wealthy metro is what has saved a very mediocre/badly run town.

  3. Maria, why should the City work with CAU to restore buildings owned by CAU? What benefit would City taxpayers receive for investing City resources in these buildings?

      1. Jim, that is an excellent question.
        I oppose all public bribes (oops, inducements or participations) in private projects.
        But the Gulch may generate a return on City taxpayer’s investments, while rebuilding these two decrepit buildings will never generate a return.

        1. The gulch will definitely not generate a return for at least 20 years, because that is how the deal is structured. It might generate a return after that or it might not. That depends on how many of its tenants are cannibalized from elsewhere in the city. Gaines Hall is currently a liability for the city (we are on the hook already for its partial restoration). If and how it would be put to use if it were to be restored is an open question. Like many of the Morris Brown buildings, something needs to be done with it because it is dragging the neighborhood down. Paschal’s restaurant could be restored and put to good economic use for at a modest cost to the public if there were a willing private partner. The hotel behind it … maybe not so much.

    1. The fire of Gaines Hall occurred when the city owned the building. If the city can invest $25 million on a pedestrian bridge that is rarely used, it can play a role in the preservation of historical assets that can become important destinations for residents and visitors alike.

      1. If the building were insured when it burned, then the City owes CAU the insurance proceeds plus interest. Otherwise, I see no obligation for City taxpayers to subsidise private owners like CAU.
        Regarding the $25 million bridge, we will learn that it was a minor waste during the corrupt Kasim Reed administration.

  4. Thanks for sharing information about the need of preserving Paschal’s and Gaines Hall and about leagal terms nd situation here for the citizens.

  5. For 40 years I have worked as an HBCU advocate. During this time, I sent students to all of Atlanta’s HBCUs, I have several members of my family who have made Atlanta their home and I have been a frequent visitor to the city during this time. It has been sad to witness the deterioration of this historical area of Atlanta. We were welcomed at Paschal’s and our HBCU education center was full of pride. Please continue to work on restoration of this area, we who visit will once again support this historical area, I can assure you……Dr. Ruth W. Woods

  6. Great Piece!! I attended Clark Atlanta University and stayed in Paschal’s my first year. While it was not a traditional Dorm i still had a great experience and I am so happy to hear a settlement was reached to restore this property. In 2022 it will be 15 years since I walked the campus as a student and I am just excited about this!! and very honored to be apart of the CAU and AUC family. In fact some friend and I are trying to put together a little reunion for all the students who call this place home while attending CAU. So, I am very excited about this news!

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