What’s the Story of That Building?- the Avalon Hotel

Avalon Hotel historical pictureThe historic building currently known as the Avalon Hotel first opened in 1919 as the Northwestern Hotel. Sam Sternberg and his wife owned and operated the Northwestern as a Kosher restaurant and hotel for Jewish travelers. In addition to hosting Jewish travelers, it was a popular gathering place for distinguished professionals and intellects of all religions and backgrounds.
In 1944 a man named Vern Manning was in Rochester while his wife Mary was being treated at the Mayo Clinic. The racial landscape in Rochester, at the time, was not welcoming to any non-white person, particularly Blacks, and he was unable to find a place to stay. His solution was to purchase the Northwestern Hotel so that Black travelers and patients of Mayo Clinic would have a safe place to stay. At that time, Mayo Clinic would not allow Black and Caucasian people to share the same hospital room and the Clinic was charging $100 deposits to non-Caucasian patients. Most patients couldn’t afford the steep deposit in addition to the cost of the medical care, so this led to the Avalon Hotel becoming a refuge for patients until they were able to share a room with another Black patient.
Because of its reputation for being the only hotel in Rochester to accept Black people, Victor Green added it to the 1948 publication of his travel guide The Negro Travelers’ Green Book. This was a book that provided a rundown of hotels, restaurants, service stations, and other businesses that provided service to black travelers. The inspiration behind the book was to guide Black Americans to travel without fear. Despite the thousands of growing listings in the book, the Avalon Hotel and the in-house Avalon Café remained the only location in Rochester, Minnesota until 1960.
As the only hotel in Southeastern Minnesota to welcome Black people, it accommodated Black celebrity travelers as well. Duke Ellington and Henry Armstrong are just two of the celebrities who stayed at the Avalon.
Unfortunately, the hotel’s inclusive policy was not well-received by all Rochester residents and visitors. On August 22, 1963, a modest racial equality march was organized and attended by both Black and Caucasian participants. With the Civil Rights Movement reaching its boiling point, and more and more white residents showing their support for racial equality, the march ended in violence. Angry residents opposed to the march threw a burning cross–widely known as a symbol of white supremacy used to intimidate Black Americans–onto the front lawn of the Avalon Hotel. This act drew attention to the fact that even a northern community, far from the front lines of the segregated South, still had a long way to go toward integration and equality for all races.
The Mannings owned and operated the hotel for 30 years before selling it. Since then, the building has changed ownership and names several times. The Avalon’s representation for ethnic, social, and geographical diversity earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It remains one of only 33 locations in Olmsted County currently on the National Register today.
Avalon Hotel current
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Jodie Meurer
What does life with adult sons look like? Jodie and her husband Brian are finding out! After over two decades of raising her sons Benjamin and Christian, Jodie is new to life with an empty nest and abundant free time. Since her sons are off on their own adventures, she and her husband have turned their skills toward raising honey bees and are excited about contributing to the pollinator population. Jodie is a two time surrogate to two boys who are busy teaching their parents just what life with boys can be like! Jodie's sons are her greatest pride, so being able to help 2 families have that same joy is an unexplainable gift. Four pregnancies 20 years apart was enough, so Jodie retired as a surrogate, but remains in the birth world as an independent birth and postpartum doula with Balance Doula Services. Nurturing women during childbirth and supporting them during their first days and weeks as mothers is a natural way for Jodie to continue welcoming new life into the world. She also works as a patient care coordinator at Rochester Chiropractic and Wellness. There she is able to work directly with a large population of pregnant and postpartum women as well as their children and families. When she isn't behind the desk, she's seeking out ways for RCW to be active with community outreach opportunities and family wellness focused events.


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