Suzassippi’s Mississippi: Hotel Alcazar, Clarksdale

This is the New Hotel Alcazar, built 1914-15, in the Colonial Revival/Classical Revival style, another loser in the 101 Places contest.  The original Alcazar was built in 1895 on an adjoining lot.  The New Alcazar was intended to expand the space in the predicted economic boom in Clarksdale.  The original Alcazar burned in later years.  The stationery from the Alcazar billed it as the “most modern hotel in Mississippi” and “European Plan.”  There seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether the European plan means providing a continental breakfast, or providing no meals.  What do ya’ll think?  How was the European plan implemented in the Hotel Alcazar?

Charles O. Pfeil of Memphis was the architect for the New Alcazar, designing this four-story building with eleven storefront bays.  Several of the bays are visible in this photo.  You can also see that the windows on the back of the building (visible just above the tree) are plain, contrasted with those on the side.

Here, a view of the front of the building reveals additional bays.  From the NRHP nomination:

…windows are tripartite arrangements of sashes within square reveals..topped with flat brick soldier course arches…third and fourth story windows are 8 over 12 double hung flanked by 4 over 1 double hung…second story windows are 12 over 2 double hung flanked by 6 over 1…

…Terra cotta cornice detailed with a band of Greek fretwork…

occupies the space above the first floor bays and the second floor windows.  Above the windows feature

cast-stone spring blocks and center stone panels detailed with a classical urn motif.

Also from the NRHP nomination:

…terra cotta cornice above a wide frieze, detailed with an acanthus and dart molding and a band of geometric panels of herringbone brick outline with cast stone elements…

Marjorie Kersteine, a former Clarksdale resident, compiled an oral history of the Jewish families in the Mississippi Delta during the early part of the century.  The Califf branch of the family identified the week between Christmas and New Year’s as significant to Jewish families.  They would travel to Clarksdale from all over the Delta, and party at the Alcazar as a time to celebrate connection and deal with the loneliness and isolation that could result from being the only Jewish people in one of the small Delta communities.

Like other businesses in Mississippi in the first half of the century, the Alcazar Hotel and Coffee Shop were all-white.  After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, employees were instructed by the King and Anderson company (owners) to “refuse service to Negroes.”  According to the US District Court ruling filed in November 1965 (Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach), Reverend Trotter of Memphis attempted to obtain a hotel room July 6, 1964, and Mrs. Vera Pigee of Clarksdale (a long-time beauty shop owner in the town) attempted to obtain service at the coffee shop.  Both were refused due to their race.  The following day, July 7, 1964, the owners closed the hotel and coffee shop, specifically to avoid having to provide service to blacks.  July 27, the Regency Club was founded as a private club, and arrangements made with King and Anderson for use of the premises of the hotel and coffee shop.  One paid $2.00 to become a “member.”  The only other requirement was to be white.  The Court ruled (16 months later) that the hotel could no longer operate in conjunction with the Regency Club and permanently enjoined the Regency Club from continued business, and the Alcazar from further discriminatory practices.

The vacant building was listed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered Places list in May 2011.



Categories: Civil Rights, Clarksdale, Delta, Hotels

12 replies

  1. I had never heard that story about the closure during the 1960s–interesting and all too common.

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  2. Apparently, AG Katzenbach was pretty busy in Mississippi during the 60s. If I remember correctly, he was the assistant attorney general at the time.

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  3. The time between Christmas and New Years was most likely Hannukah, in which the Jewish families got together. There were many Jewish families throughout the Delta, and many Synagogues at that time. Check out the Jewish Cemetary in Clarksdale…it is H U G E. Friars Point Road and Lee Drive.

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    • The article referenced that Jewish families worked long hours and weekends until Christmas, and then the following week was no sales/no business until after New Year’s, so they took advantage of that down time. It did not specifically reference celebrating Hanukkah, apparently because it can fall in late November as well as December, depending on the year.

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  4. Amazing how many businesses closed down because the proprietors refused to serve blacks. It really is an example of cutting the nose off to spite the face.

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    • Someone should write a book about this phenomenon, which does seem quite wide-spread. I do wonder how many of these downtown hotels would have closed up shop anyway due to changing economy, regardless of de-segregation. But integration might have just forced it earlier than they might have otherwise.

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  5. Given that this post just ran this week, today’s commentary by Sid Salter about Mike Sturdivant was a nice coincidence. Sturdivant was a Delta businessman, who among other ventures owned a Holiday Inn: “Sturdivant, his uncle, and Sturdivant’s former Harvard roommate Earle Jones built a magnificent company in the hotel management industry called Mississippi Management Inc. They opened their first property in 1956 – the Holiday Inn in Meridian. It’s was the state’s second hotel to integrate.” (Daily Journal: http://nems360.com/bookmark/18477844)

    I wonder what year it integrated and what the first hotel was?

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  6. R&B great, IkeTurner,worked there, when he was a teenager, as a bell boy and shoe shine boy. Shortly after, he recorded what Sam Phillips said was the first rock and roll record, ” Rocket 88.” So one could say, rock and roll was born there.

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  7. Very well done. Thank you! My Uncle lived there temporarily during the 70s. His room & others were pretty well run down at the time. I do remember the racial incidents mentioned during the 60s. On the other hand, we now have to worry about being mugged or shot.

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