The Hermitage Hotel
Backstory and Context
Founded in 1908, the Hermitage was Nashville’s first million-dollar hotel. Construction began on The Hermitage Hotel in 1908 and opened in September of 1910. J. E. R. Carpenter used the distinctive Beaux-Arts style of architecture that offers a blend of classical Italian and French Renaissance features and is the only commercial building left with these features in Tennessee.
The Hermitage Hotel quickly established itself as a favorite for politicians because of its location--right next to the state Capitol building. It became the home of the state Democratic Party. Over the decades, campaign headquarters were regularly established in the hotel. In 1920, it served as the headquarters of both suffragist and anti-suffragist groups meeting to lobby the Tennessee legislature. Tennessee Representative Harry Burn cast the deciding ballot that enabled women to vote nationwide.
The Hermitage Hotel enjoyed several notable visitors such as presidents Taft, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson, and entertainers Al Jolson, Bette Davis, and Gene Autry.
The Hermitage Hotel was one of many segregated hotels in Nashville during the 1960s that the Student Non-violence Committee (NCLC) negotiated with in order to take steps toward desegregation.
The Nashville Christian Leadership Council (NCLC) was founded on January 18, 1958 by pastor Kelly Miller Smith, pastor of the First Colored Baptist Church (FCBC), and others in order to create a local chapter of the SCLC. Smith recruited female church leaders into the organization with the idea to get as much help as possible in their goal to register more black voters. After creating the NCLC, Smith held non-violent protest workshops in his church (FCBC).
In an effort to desegregate Nashville businesses and establishments, the NCLC asked downtown establishments if they would willingly desegregate their business. However, the businesses refused.
During the November 17, 1959 meeting of the NCLC, James Morris Lawson Jr., a church minister who worked with the NCLC and Smith, suggested they continue talking with Harvey’s Department Store, because they seemed to be reasonable when previously approached.
During the summer of 1963, the Hermitage Hotel integrated its services after negotiating with NCLC. However, the Hermitage Hotel's employment practices and procedures were still segregated.
Charles S. Johnson, Fisk University's first black president, held meetings with interracial groups at the Hermitage Hotel in 1942 to address the racial tensions and issues in the nation at the time.
The Hermitage Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, just a few years after the Hotel was closed, sold, then reopened. In 2000, the Hotel underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation to restore it to its former glory and cleaned from the smoke varnished walls and ceilings and reopened again in 2003. The Historic Nashville owns a preservation easement on the Hermitage Hotel, and this preservation easement protects the exterior from demolition and unnecessary renovations throughout. This has ensured the Hermitage Hotel will remain a standing piece of history.
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