Columbia Heights Heritage Trail #14
Pitts Motor Hotel
The Pitts Motor Hotel, formerly located at 1451 Belmont Street, lingers in memory for two reasons. In the 1960s it was a gathering place of Civil Rights movement leaders. Later it became a "welfare hotel." In March 1968 the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reserved 30 rooms at the Pitts Hotel to house leaders of the Poor Peoples' Campaign he planned to lead in May. He chose the facility because it was both comfortable and black owned.
Despite Dr. King's 1968 assassination, the Poor People's Campaign went ahead. Demonstrators maintained that jobs and income were a civil right owed to the needy citizens by the federal government. In May and June thousands camped in "Resurrection City" on the National Mall where, due to excessive rain, conditions deteriorated quickly. Resentful campers marched on the Pitts where the leaders were housed, demanding (unsuccessfully) that the leaders exchange their comforts for the muddy Mall.
In its heyday the Pitts Motel housed the Red Carpet Lounge. "Everybody would be there" remembered activist Bob Moore. But its popularity masked an unstable financial situation. Owner Cornelius Pitts and other African American entrepreneurs (and would-be homeowners) at the time often were refused bank loans or offered unfavorable terms. In the 1980s, when Reagan administration cuts to social programs led to widespread homelessness, Pitts took the opportunity to turn around his fortunes, converting his hotel into a shelter. The city rented all 50 rooms, but the prices were so inflated that a congressional investigation resulted. In 2004 a condominium building replaced the hotel.