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Future Is Uncertain for Modest Hotel Surviving Era of Segregation

March 21, 2007 by  
Filed under Money/Business

As it stands, the Clermont Hotel is indistinguishable from other single-room-occupancy properties you see downtown. A little nicer than some, perhaps, due to a recent public/private renovation it received as part of a noise abatement program because of its proximity to Petco Park.

What sets it apart, however, is its designation by the city’s Historical Resources Board for its “significance in association with segregation and San Diego’s African American community.”

According to Karen Huff, chairwoman of the Black Historical Society of San Diego, it is the only hotel west of the Mississippi River to receive such designation “based on the country’s era of racial segregation.”

It was built in 1887. By the mid-1920s, the Seventh Avenue hotel “had become part of San Diego’s historic Harlem of the West, a predominately black business and residential district in downtown,” states the Black Historical Society’s Web site.

The historical designation ensures that the obscure SRO – once listed in the city’s phone directory as “A Hotel for Colored People” – which housed such jazz greats as Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton and Charlie “Bird” Parker when they came to town, can’t be torn down without a hearing. Yet its future use is uncertain.

Architecture critics point out that as cities and states strive to preserve their more elegant and massive historical structures, smaller, simpler buildings that are equally important to Americana are often thoughtlessly destroyed.

In mid-March, the Centre City Development Corp., which owns the block where the Clermont is located, except for the 56-room hotel itself, will select one of two finalists for a redevelopment project aimed “at celebrating the African American history of downtown,” said Senior Project Manager John Collum.

The contenders are the Robert Green Co. and Related/CityLink. One of the members of the Robert Green team is the ALS Investment Group LLC, which owns the Clermont.

Larry Sidiropoulos, a local attorney who is one of three partners in the ALS Investment Group, declined to cite what it paid to acquire the three-story property in 2004, but said that it spent $180,000 on fixups. The city, meanwhile, spent $330,000 on renovations.

If the Robert Green group is selected as the developer, the hotel might be turned into an office building with space for retail. However, its stucco exterior would likely be removed and replaced with wood to resemble how the structure originally looked, Sidiropoulos said.

If Related/CityLink is selected, plans for the Clermont could change.

“There are a lot of things to think about, but we’ve not crossed that road yet,” Sidiropoulos added. “We’re considering a restaurant with lodging upstairs.

“It could be lofts upstairs. It could be any number of things. We’ve not put pen to paper, but there’s been some interest from local restaurateurs, so that’s an option.”

Collum said proposals for the block include a hotel, retail, a parking facility and a jazz club, but he declined to be more specific.

Related/CityLink could not be reached for comment.

There have been a series of owners through the years, and the Clermont has operated under different names. It opened as the Occidental Hotel, was later known as the Union House, and by 1901 was called the Clermont House. Before it was renamed the Clermont, the hotel was called the Coast Hotel.

By Connie Lewis

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