The historic Paradise Inn, a Fayette Street building that played a vital role in the social and cultural fabric of Martinsville’s African American community, is scheduled to be demolished on Friday, August 11, two days after a ceremony to celebrate the Inn’s history and provide a time for residents to remember and voice their memories of the landmark.
Martinsville Mayor LC Jones said it was a bittersweet day for many in the community.
“It’s a day that we all come together and commemorate a very significant and historic landmark in this community, and it’s only right that we do it justice and send it off with a great farewell,” Jones said during the Wednesday ceremony.
Coretha Gravely, a former Paradise Inn resident, said when she and her husband wed in 1975, they lived in the top apartment of the building.
“Mrs. Dillard she would only rent to men, but we lived there, and my first child was born there,” said Graveley, a Martinsville Police Officer.
Gravely recalled “so many good memories of sitting on a swing at the Inn and eating its famous homemade hamburgers. We used to go there on Saturdays and Friday nights, and they had a dance floor. You couldn’t dance on Sunday because of the Blue Law until they changed it,” she said.
“It’s a nice, respectful place. There wasn’t no trouble, no fighting, no disagreement,” she said. “Everyone got along and everything.”
DeShanta Hairston, executive director of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI), said while she’s part of the younger generation, she had the opportunity to have a Paradise cheeseburger when she was a young girl.
“I used to go and get candy from the candy counter, so I do have my own memories of Paradise. I never got to go and party, go out and hang out and stuff like that, but I did go out during the daytime and eat and stuff,” she said.
Being raised by her grandparents, Hairston said she knows how important Paradise Inn has been to the city’s black community and its history.
“Not just to my grandparents, or my dad, my mom, my aunt. They all talk about how when they first became legal and they could go out, Paradise was their first stop. They couldn’t wait to go to Paradise,” she said.
Hairston said nine times out of 10, every member of Martinsville’s black community that was raised in the city has a story about Paradise Inn.
Because of this, her mission is to preserve the inn’s history. But for that to happen, she must have help. Hairston issued a call to action to the community.
“If you have old pictures or just memories that you want to share about times from Paradise, stop by FAHI Museum and see me. Bring your pictures, we can make copies of them so we can try to preserve the memories of the things that took place here,” she said.
Hairston said she feels the longer FAHI waits to get these things the harder it will be because memories of the Paradise Inn were largely those of the older generations.
Martinsville City Councilman Lawrence Mitchell said it was a good day and a bad day.
“It’s sad, but we have to think about it. Just say your grandfather. He had a chair, it was his favorite chair, right, but one day grandpa passed on, so you had to let the chair go,” Mitchell said.
“This is Paradise,” he said. “It’s something you cherished all your life. It’s something that everyone in the community remembered.”
And like the chair, the Paradise Inn will exist in memories and photographs after it is demolished on Friday.