What is: the original signage at the Lorraine hotel before it became the motel. During the creation of the National Civil Rights Museum in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the original hotel building was renovated to include reminders of what the hotel looked like before being transformed into the the motor court in the 1950s/60s.
What was: The signage on the Mulberry Street-Huling Avenue side promises steaks, shrimp and fish. It still entices some visitors who don’t realize at first that it’s part of the museum, not a restaurant.
Walter and Loree Bailey bought what had been the Marquette Hotel in 1945. The Baileys renamed the hotel the Lorraine for Loree Bailey and the Nat King Cole song “Sweet Lorraine.”
In the era of racial segregation, an African-American traveling for any reason had few hotels to stay at and couldn’t go to just any restaurant in the immediate vicinity. So the Bailey’s added a restaurant. The kitchen is where Loree Bailey prepared food for the motel’s guests.
Figures like Cab Calloway and Count Basie, along with Stax Records musicians used the Lorraine as a creative oasis of sorts. The Lorraine hosted doctors, lawyers, salesmen, businessmen, families on vacation, and those traveling America after World War II who were determined to change the segregated society they returned to after fighting for their country.
Isaac Hayes reminisced, “We’d go down to the Lorraine Motel and we’d lay by the pool and Mr. Bailey would bring us fried chicken and we’d eat ice cream. . . . We’d just frolic until the sun goes down and [then] we’d go back to work.”
Two famous songs, “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood,” were written at the motel.