Just off the beaten path between Centennial Olympic Park and AmericasMart downtown sits one of the most significant hotels to Atlanta sports history and the civil rights movement.
In 1961, Jewish brothers Irving and Marvin Goldstein built the Americana Motor Hotel for $3 million with help from investors who included former Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall and National Service Industries President Erwin Zaban. Opened a year later, it was downtown Atlanta’s first new luxury hotel in more than 40 years and had fine restaurants, a swimming pool and a swanky rooftop club.
That same year, Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. had run for office on a promise to bring a Major League Baseball team to the city. After failing to reach an agreement with the American League’s Kansas City Athletics, Allen and other city officials pursued the Milwaukee Braves, and a 52,000-seat stadium was built in less than a year.
But some things needed to change before the team arrived.
The Braves were the first big-league baseball team to come to the South, and Hank Aaron, the team’s best player, was African-American. After sit-ins and boycotts at places like Rich’s Department Store, Atlanta was slowly desegregating, but it still lacked an integrated luxury hotel downtown where visiting baseball teams could stay.
With the support of Allen, the Goldsteins opened the Americana in 1962 as a fully integrated hotel, and the Braves relocated to Atlanta for the 1966 season.
Born in Atlanta, the Goldstein brothers were the children of Jewish immigrants from Russian Poland, and their experiences with discrimination and integration had deeply affected them.
After serving in the Army Air Corps in Europe in World War II, Marvin Goldstein returned to Atlanta and started an orthodontist practice that was the first in the Southeast to take black patients in an integrated office. Goldstein treated the children and family of Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the families of other civil rights leaders.
Marvin and Irving Goldstein were both dentists and volunteered at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, serving needy patients both black and white.
The Goldsteins started investing in Atlanta real estate in 1946 when they purchased an apartment building in Midtown and later converted it into Atlanta’s first integrated hotel, the Peachtree Manor Hotel.
“The Goldstein brothers got into the hotel game by accident,” said Jeremy Katz, the archives director at the Breman Museum. “They purchased a building in Midtown and wanted to turn it into an orthodontist office, but they saw the room configuration and decided it would make a better hotel and opened the Peachtree Manor Hotel. Once that was successful, they decided to open the Americana downtown.”
(The Saporta Report went into great detail May 2, 2016, about the history of the Americana, the Braves and the Goldstein Brothers to help mark the 50th anniversary of the first Major League Baseball season in Atlanta.)
After many renovations and name changes that saw the Americana become a Best Western, Wyndham and Marriott, the 312-room hotel now is a DoubleTree by Hilton. Last year the hotel underwent a $12 million overhaul to refurbish and restore the hotel to its original retro style as a homage to its history and contribution to the civil rights movement.
“A lot of developers looked at this hotel when it was on the market and ran away from it,” General Manager Ted Cobbs said. “There were so many problems, from the lack of exhaust air to the age of the plumbing and general configuration of the hotel. We’ve now addressed as much of that as we could find.”
Sometime this fall the hotel will switch its name to the American hotel while still operating as a DoubleTree. In the 1970’s, a lawsuit from a hotel in Miami with the Americana name forced Goldstein to switch names to the American hotel. The inside of the hotel has been completely redone with midcentury modern furniture, and the largest conference room has been renamed the Marvin Boardroom in honor of Goldstein.
To add to the throwback theme, a vintage Airstream travel trailer has been added to the pool area.
Cobbs and the hotel staff are working with the Breman to add a display near the front of the hotel commemorating the Goldsteins’ contributions to the city and the civil rights movement.
“We first approached this as making it a nice DoubleTree, but we realized there is too much history here,” Cobbs said. “Dr. Goldstein was really focused on improving the situation of all people. He wasn’t a civil rights activist necessarily, although that certainly fell into the area that he was focused on.”