Taking a look at the history of the former Avalon Hotel and it’s owner, Vern Manning | news

Diving into Rochester’s Historic Avalon Hotel

ROCHESTER, Minn.- At the intersection of Civic Center Dr. and Broadway Avenue North resides the former Avalon Hotel.

The building, originally named the Northwestern Hotel, was built in 1912 and served as hotel for Jewish visitors, according to the History Center of Olmsted County.

In 1944, Vern Manning traveled to Rochester so his wife could undergo treatment.

However, at the time, hospitals across the nation had segregation policies that would not allow for a white and black person to share a room.

Undeterred, Manning bought the former Northwestern and transformed it into The Avalon Hotel, making Manning the first black business owner in the Med City.

Site Manager for Mayowood Dan Nowakowski said it was then that Manning’s building became a safe haven for black patients visiting Rochester for medical care.

“The United States had a rule where an African American patient and a white patient could not stay in the same room, so the Avalon was a way of being a halfway point for African American patients because they could stay there until a room opened up for them at Mayo Clinic,” Nowakowski said.

The hotel hosted a number of guests for almost 30 years and was also listed in the Green Book, an informational guide for the black community that contained a list of safe businesses.

Ellington was among one of The Avalon Hotel’s most famous guests.

Nowakowski said Ellington was originally offered a room at the Kahler Hotel, however segregation laws changed Ellington’s mind.

“When Duke Ellington came to Rochester for a performance, he was actually offered a room at the Kahler Hotel but he turned it down and decided to stay at the Avalon to give them the business because unfortunately due to segregation laws in play, the Kahler had to reject another famous artist who could not perform,” Nowakowski said.

Jersey Jo’s Owner Joseph Phillips said Manning’s hotel is one that defined expectations.

“A black man at the turn of the century in this country where crimes against our population were rampant. There were not a lot of black business owners. We were not looked at as a very prominent part of society. He was able to walk in and not only purchase a property but sustain it for decades. Man, to me that speaks volumes,” Phillips said.

You can learn more about the Manning’s, The Avalon Hotel and the Green Book by visiting the History Center of Olmsted County.

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