King-Lincoln Bronzeville Landmark, 'Green Book' Site Macon Hotel Finds New Life

The Macon Hotel and other “Green Book” sites offer a glimpse into a disappearing past.

Chris Bournea
The Macon Hotel in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville District in 2019

Walking by the boarded-up three-story brick building at 366 N. 20th St. in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville District, there are no outward signs of its rich history. Built as the Macon Hotel in 1888, the site provided lodging for Black jazz luminaries such as Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald in the 20th century.

After sitting vacant for years, the Macon has a shot at new life. The building’s owner, Yhezkel Levi of Z on Main, and architect Laurie Gunzelman are planning to convert the property into an extended-stay hotel with a first-floor space for a restaurant and bar. The Columbus Historic Resource Commission approved the renovation, and work has begun, says Cynthia Rickman of the city’s Department of Development, though Gunzelman did not respond to a request for comment on the progress.

More:The Future of King-Lincoln Bronzeville

As the Macon evolves for its next use, its historic value remains, including the distinction of being one of just four remaining Columbus sites that were once listed in the “Green Book.” As portrayed in the 2018 Academy Award-winning film starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, the guide helped Black Americans find safe lodging, restaurants and entertainment in segregated America.

“Green Book” sites like the Macon Hotel did not simply provide respite for Black travelers, but also contributed to the economic stability of their communities, says historian Rita Fuller-Yates.

“I was really in awe of what the Macon was to the African American community,” she says. “It was bigger than a restaurant and a hotel. It housed many small businesses. It allowed for a small business to have a retail space. They were bigger than just jazz.”

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Columbus once hosted 21 “Green Book” locations. The remaining sites have a particular cultural significance, since many of the buildings were demolished when the construction of the interstate highway system snaked through Black communities and business areas in the 1950s and ’60s, says Trevon Logan, an Ohio State University economics professor.

“I think the big story is the disappearance of these Black business districts. If you sent someone to those same areas today, there are no Black business districts,” he says. “The freeways destroyed these communities. The ‘Green Book’ becomes vitally important in those discussions.” 

Other buildings listed in the Columbus section of the "Green Book"

Here’s a look at the history of the other three remaining buildings that were once listed in the Columbus section of the “Green Book”—all of them located in the historically Black King-Lincoln Bronzeville District.

The St. Clair Hotel, 333 S. St. Clair Ave. The hotel originally opened in 1915, according to Columbus Landmarks. Like the Macon, the St. Clair provided lodging for Black entertainers, like Sammy Davis Jr. and Lionel Hampton, when they visited Columbus.

The building was converted into the Hotel St. Clair Apartments in 2017 by the Kelly Cos. development firm, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Prior to its current use, it served for 15 years as low-income senior housing.

The Cooper Tourist Home, 259 N. 17th St. & the Hawkins Tourist Home, 70 N. Monroe Ave. These private dwellings were once listed in the “Green Book” as part of a network of residential lodgings. They offered an early version of modern services like Airbnb that allow travelers to rent homes for short stays.