MLK stayed here: Motel makeover

The Gallery Court was among a new breed of roadside lodging– the motor court– when Martin Luther King Jr. stayed there in 1963. Today, the structure is the Budget Inn, and its classic 1955 style is getting a new look.

"It's just getting a facelift, putting some lipstick on," says Vipul Patel, whose father owns the motel.

The new look includes towers in front, but the building's footprint isn't changing. The renovation did, however, require a certificate of appropriateness– not because it's historic, but because the historic motel is in an entrance corridor.

"I was really pleased he wants to keep it simple," says Mary Joy Scala of the Charlottesville planning department.

Not everyone is thrilled about updating the building.

"I was just thinking it was a shame that building changed because to me, it so clearly brought forth that '50s-'60s civil rights action on that corner, and not just Martin Luther King," says Christine Madrid French.

French, active in a group called Preservation Piedmont, notes that the Budget Inn stands footsteps away from Buddy's, the restaurant at which UVA history professor Paul Gaston and black leaders Floyd Johnson and William Johnson were assaulted during a 1963 sit-in.

"Personally and professionally, I would prefer that hotel be preserved to help Charlottesville reflect on race relations– then and now," says French.

She notes that the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King died, is very similar to the Budget Inn, with the same flat roof and balconies.

(And French laments the impending loss of two local roadside motels. Both the White House and Town & Country on Pantops are slated for destruction.)

Patel, well aware of the building's history, considers himself nostalgic for '50s architecture, but he admits that "curb appeal" trumps history this time.

"Sometimes," says Patel, "old age plays against you in the hotel business."

The historic motels of the 1950s don't necessarily appeal to the travelers of the 21st century. The Budget Inn on Emmet Street gets a makeover.