A Bunch of Downtown Hotels and Businesses Were Safe Havens for Black Travelers During Segregation

The city is archiving the still-standing establishments that defied segregation

For African-Americans navigating the nation’s first transcontinental road—the mythical Chicago-to-L.A. Route 66—the trip was often less than a joy ride. Though removed from the Deep South, segregation and bans on black customers were a common practice among the hotels, restaurants, and bars that lined “Mother Road.” There was also much worse—hatred and violence. “Sundown towns” were inherently dangerous places for black people, with violence just about promised once night descended.

Thankfully, black voyagers had a guide to help them navigate friendly businesses along the 2,448-mile stretch. Called the The Negro Motorist Green Book or The Travelers’ Green Book, the guide was an invaluable resource launched in 1936 by Harlem postal worker Victor H. Green. It stayed in print for 30 years.

“What’s interesting about the Green Book is that people compare it to an AAA for black people,” photographer and writer Candacy Taylor told CBC. “But it was even more because there were tailors listed in the Green Book. There were nightclubs, barbershops, beauty salons, and even real estate offices.”

Los Angeles was a relative haven for black travelers on Route 66, with 224 businesses listed in the Green Book. The Getty Conservation Institute is now helping the City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources establish an inventory of these L.A. businesses. The 56 sites that remain could be designated L.A. Historic-Cultural Monuments.

Legendary sites like Biltmore Hotel and Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown, and the Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue, all welcomed African-American travelers and were featured in the Green Book. Less legendary places like the now-rundown Aster Hotel on Flower Street—visible from the Expo and Blue lines—was also a respite for black travelers. As Taylor points out to the L.A. Times, some of these historic places are currently at risk of being lost to “gentrification and neglect.”

Check out a historical video from Taylor on the Green Book below.