The Phoenix Hotel opened its doors as a tavern in 1797 in what is now downtown Lexington. Throughout its 180 years, the Phoenix Hotel was witness to the violence of the Civil War and the struggle for equality during the Civil Rights movements of the twentieth century. Although it was demolished in 1981 and replaced by Phoenix Park, the legacy of the Phoenix Hotel still stands as a testament to the complicated history of Lexington.
Backstory and Context
As the world moved into the twentieth century, the hotel was unfortunately still rooted in its Southern prejudices. The hotel became known for its discrimination of black visitors. Before a pre-season game at Memorial Coliseum in October of 1961, African-American members of the Boston Celtics were refused service by the Phoenix Hotel. As a result, the players boycotted the game and left Lexington, taking a brave stand against this discrimination.3 In December of 1961, Louis Armstrong came to visit the hotel to perform for a private party. When he arrived, he was met by protesters who were speaking out against the hotel's discriminatory policies. A young Lexington man named Calvert McCann was able to capture this historic moment on his camera. This was crucial because the Lexington Herald-Leader had refused to provide press coverage of the demonstration.4
A historical marker was placed on the grounds of Phoenix Park in 2015 by the Kentucky Historical Society. The marker commemorates the significance of the Phoenix Hotel as the "oldest hostelry in the whole western country," as well as the centennial of the Rotary Club of Lexington which first began meeting at the famed hotel on June 23, 1915.5
3. Spears, Valerie Honeycutt. Four black photographers with Kentucky roots were witness to history. Lexington Herald-Ledger. February 22, 2013. Accessed April 01, 2019. http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/education/article44405220.html.