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Preserving Black History: Pueblo preserves 1940s era motel while a museum searches for a new home

The Coronado Motel, also known as Coronado Lodge is also significant to history for welcoming Black traveler’s during the first half the 20th century.
Coronado Lodge.jpg
Posted at 4:13 PM, Feb 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 19:30:50-05

Pueblo, Colo. – Inside the Coronado Motel, a Pueblo, Colorado 1940s-era building, sits a piece of 1983 Hollywood nostalgia, a National Lampoon’s Vacation poster.

“I mean, people locally more know it for the fact that it was a National Lampoon's Vacation, it was filmed here,” Joe Koncilja, a local real estate developer and the current property owner said.

But The Coronado Motel, also known as Coronado Lodge is also significant to history for welcoming Black traveler’s during the first half the 20th century, when segregation laws prevented Black Americans from staying at many of the hotels and motels in Colorado’s big cities.

“It was listed in the Green Book. And it is has a unique history as a place that allowed African Americans to stay,” Pueblo historian Corrine Koehler said.

Koehler has researched Coronado Motel for years and said it’s listing in The Green Book, a segregation-era travel guide for Black Americans that outlined safe places to stay is a testament to it’s importance in history.

“There were several places in Pueblo that they could stay but most of them were houses - when you read some of the stories, you know, they would pack their lunches because they would never know where they could stop," Koehler said. "And a lot of times they knew if they had to go to the bathroom, they would have to stop alongside the road because gas stations would not allow them to use the restrooms. So, it was very difficult. But all the national parks were very open. So the national parks were always a place that Black people were welcomed, and they could use the facilities and visit etc. but other than that it was difficult,” Koehler said

For decades, a local family owned and ran the motel but it was recently sold to Koncilja and his brother.

“I think it was pretty much passed over by probably a lot of other investors, because, you know, it was a little gritty. But that's kind of what my brothers and I are interested in. So we've really appreciated the bones of this place.” Koncilja said.

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Koncilja said they also appreciated the history,

“We're working with the Historical Society locally, and we're trying to take it back to the original Adobe color, what that would have been, but it's got really cool historical details,” Koncilja said.

Coronado Motel is officially on the National Register of Historic Places. But elsewhere in Pueblo, a building holding pieces of Colorado Black history recently closed.

The Lincoln Home

“We're sitting inside of the old Lincoln home,” Ray Brown, President of the Pueblo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission said.

The Lincoln Home was a senior living facility and orphanage for Black Coloradans from 1914 to 1963.

“It didn't act as an orphanage, in a full sense of the word. It was a place where parents could bring their kids, leave them here for a week, or for the work week, and then pick them up for the weekend and take them home,” Brown said. “It was critical because the African American community had no place else to place children. If parents worked and they couldn't be home to take care of their kids, they had to have a place to put those children. So a lot of those parents would bring their kids to this orphanage.”

When the Lincoln Home closed, community leader Dr. Ruth Steele bought the building and turned it into a museum. Brown served on the museum’s board of directors.

“She was a collector of everything. It was absolutely wonderful. It was not just history about the orphanage, but it was also history about the African American experience,” Brown said.

But a few years ago when the museum lost it’s nonprofit status and taxes started to add up, a new owner, The Friendly Harbor, a mental health center took over the building.

“They help people that are coming out of the state hospitals and other facilities and they help to reintroduce these people back into the society,” Brown said. “The people at Friendly Harbor have been absolutely wonderful. To me, they've been very supportive, they understand that this is the old Lincoln Home. And they're very respectful of all of that. What's really beautiful, is that when we lost the building, we were actually told that we had to remove the Dr. King and Emmett Till statue from the property, or lose it."

Brown said the statues were moved.

"When the people at Friendly Harbor took the building over, they asked me a simple question, ‘where's the statue that belongs here?’. And so it was great, because then I was able to, to bring the statue back and place it back where it was originally," said Brown.

Closing the museum was devastating.

“Oh, it was very, very hard,” Brown said.

Now, nearly all the artifacts that were inside the museum are inside Brown’s personal storage unit.

“I've set up different displays in different places. The Pueblo Heritage Museum has a display of the old Lincoln Home,” Brown said. “I wanted to start a separate Museum, dealing with African American history, the heritage of the African Americans in Pueblo.”

Brown said he is optimistic about the future.

“We are trying to reestablish our 501c3 status here. And I hope that we're able to get that successfully accomplished so that we can open some doors to funding,” Brown said.

Brown said this would allow the Lincoln Home to exist beyond historical markers, display cases, and most importantly, beyond his storage unit.

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