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Former Black-owned Motel Will Get New Life as Supportive Housing 
A former Black-owned motel that provided lodging for Black travelers in Knoxville during the segregation era will soon provide much-needed permanent supportive housing for men with prison records. 

Dogan Gaither 2019
Future home of Dogan-Gaither Flats, per Google street views Feb. 2019

The building with the double butterfly roof at 211 Jessamine, between Jackson and Magnolia avenues, was built in 1963 as the Dogan-Gaither Motor Court. During the 1960s, it was one of very few places that Black travelers to East Tennessee could find lodging during a time when a majority of area motels refused to serve Black customers. 

The building’s new incarnation will be as Dogan-Gaither Flats, 16 one-bedroom units of supportive housing owned by 4th Purpose Foundation, a Knoxville-based criminal justice reform philanthropy, and managed by Men of Valor, a nonprofit focused on reducing recidivism among ex-offenders through “encouragement, support, accountability, and training.” 

“We are happy to see this life-altering housing and reform model expand here in Knoxville,” said Mayor Indya Kincannon. “We want to help decrease recidivism rates and increase success stories for these men. One way we can help do that is by ensuring this is an affordable-housing option as they reintegrate in our community.”  

The City invested $480,000 from its Affordable Rental Development Fund to support the housing project. City Council voted to approve the funding on Jan. 26. 

One of the building’s previous owners, Bittle and Sons, received $50,000 from the City’s Commercial Facade Improvement Fund during a 2013-14 renovation project, during which it invested $12,500 of its own funds. This was one the first façade projects in the Magnolia Warehouse district. 

“Many City goals overlap in this project,” says Charles Lomax, Director of the City’s Office of Community Empowerment. “Affordable housing is necessary to help justice-system-impacted individuals get back on their feet and take full advantage of another opportunity.

“One of the challenges we’ve identified in our community is people who have criminal records finding employment, and this project addresses those barriers to opportunity and success.” 

Who were Dogan and Gaither? They were Knoxville couple Alexander D. Gaither and Dorothy Dogan Gaither. He was born in Mechanicsville and graduated from Knoxville College. She grew up in the neighborhood east of downtown, daughter of Nathan Dogan, a career bellman at the Farragut Hotel and a prominent member of the Black community. 

The Dogan Gaither Motor Lodge at 211 Jessamine -- 28 units with TVs and air conditioning, plus a restaurant and a tavern--hosted stays by musical luminaries Cab Calloway and Ray Charles. But it was not the couple’s first venture. It was the motel’s second incarnation in just a few years. 

On July 28, 1957, Alexander and Dorothy had welcomed Knoxville Mayor Jack Dance as a guest speaker to the grand opening of their 20-unit motor lodge at 208 E. Vine Avenue near Central Street. 

Original DGML on E. Vine
Photo of the original Dothan-Gaither Motor Court, care of Beck Cultural Center

In 1959, that motel was listed in the Nationwide Hotel Association Directory and Guide to Travelers, a publication like the famous Green Book guide that assisted Black travelers in the Jim Crow era to find welcoming restaurants, gas stations, lodgings, etc. 

1959 NHA guideNHA guide 1959

However, the motel at Vine Ave was a casualty of the “Downtown Loop construction,” part of the urban renewal projects that created the Summit Hill Drive and James White Parkway and displaced a large community of Black businesses and homes, including the Dogan family home on East Main. 

The Dogan-Gaither Motor Lodge was one of the few Black-owned businesses displaced by urban renewal to survive. 

“It’s fitting that people who need to find a safe and welcoming place to stay along their journey will once again find that at the motel built by Alexander and Dorothy,” Lomax said.

ACS rendering of DGF
Posted by ptravis On 10 February, 2021 at 6:31 PM