James-Keys Hotel, located in Asheville, NC, was listed in the Green Book from 1952-1957 and 1959-1967. It was listed as “James Keys—409 Southside Ave” under “Hotels” from 1952-1955 and as “James Keys Hotel—409 Southside Ave.” from 1956-1957 and 1959-1967. The hotel opened in 1944 and was previously operated as the Criterion Hotel and the Booker T. Washington Hotel; the Booker T. Washington Hotel was also listed in the Green Book, from 1940-1967, although the hotel’s name and ownership had changed. See the entry for Booker T. Washington Hotel for more information: https://aahc.nc.gov/green-book/booker-t-washington-hotel.1
The James-Keys Hotel opened at the site of the former Booker T. Washington Hotel in 1944. The business was established by booker Mason W. “Slo Boy” James and businesswoman Louise N. Keys. James and Keys each owned a half-share in the hotel, which also housed a small motion picture theater. Callie James, Mason’s wife and Louise’s niece, managed the hotel alongside her husband.2
The first floor of the hotel housed the movie theater along with 8 rooms and 2 bathrooms, a ballroom and lobby were located on the second floor, and 20 rooms and 6 bathrooms were located on the third floor. A three-bedroom apartment, likely the home of Mason and Callie James, was located on the mezzanine. Mason James also operated the James Mason Booking Agency from the hotel in the 1940s; the agency booked Black musicians and boasted its own tour bus. A number of prominent entertainers performed at the hotel’s ballroom, including Billie Holiday, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.3
Louise N. Keys became widowed in 1940. After her husband’s death she supported the members of her extended family by financially backing their business endeavors and leaving them money and business assets in her will. Keys left her half-share of the James-Keys Hotel to Callie James and her nephew, Samuel Camp, at the time of her death around 1950. Keys also owned S.W. Keys restaurant in Washington, DC, another Green Book business. Her will directed that the restaurant be sold and the profits split between Callie James, Samuel Camp, and the restaurant’s manager.4
Mason James, Callie James, and Samuel Camp retained ownership of the James-Keys Hotel until 1972, when the hotel was transferred to the Asheville Housing Authority. The building was demolished as part of the East Riverside Urban Renewal Project in the mid-1970s.5
Essay by Brandie K. Ragghianti, 2022
1. Victor H. Green, 1952 Green Book, p. 52; Green, 1953 Green Book, p. 52; Green, 1954 Green Book, p. 52; Green, 1955 Green Book, p. 52; Green, 1956 Green Book, p. 45; Green, 1957 Green Book, p. 46; Green, 1959 Green Book, p. 51; Green, 1960 Green Book, p. 72; Green, 1961 Green Book, p. 62; Green, 1962 Green Book, p. 73; Green, 1963-1964 Green Book, p. 57; 1966-1967 Green Book, p. 57.
2. Miller’s 1945-1946 Asheville City Directory, 161 (street listing), 275, 295 (alphabetical listing); Louise N. Keys, 1948, Buncombe County, North Carolina, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998, digital pp. 655-658, accessed from www.ancestry.com.
3. Miller’s 1945-1946 Asheville City Directory, 161, street listing; “Rewinding Asheville’s Black History,” The Urban News, February 10, 2016, https://theurbannews.com/our-town/2016/rewinding-ashevilles-black-histo…. Note: the article in The Urban News includes images related to the James Mason Agency and the James-Keys Hotel.
4. “Value of Suicide’s Estate is Known,” The Pittsburgh Courier, May 4, 1940, 12, accessed from www.ancestry.com; Louise N. Keys, 1948, Buncombe County, North Carolina, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998, digital pp. 655-658, accessed from www.ancestry.com. The building that housed S.W. Keys restaurant on 7th Street in Washington, DC still stands; see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/tips/green-book-history-dc/.
5. “Real Estate Transfers,” Asheville Citizen-Times, June 30, 1972, digital p. 26, accessed from www.newspapers.com; “Thigpen, Stewart Re-elected as Housing Authority Leaders,” Asheville-Citizen Times, November 22, 1972, digital p. 15, accessed from www.newspapers.com.
Did you know?
- This entry was listed as “James Keys--409 Southside Ave.” under the “Hotels” category from 1952-1955. The 1956 Green Book was the first edition without category headings. This entry was later listed as “James Keys Hotel---409 Southside Ave.” from 1956-1957 and then from 1959-1967.
- The Green Book simultaneously listed the Booker T. Washington Hotel at 409 Southside Ave from during the same years.
- In 1951, The Carolinian newspaper advertised hotels and parks exclusively for African Americans in addition to private homes, dormitories, and dining halls at educational institutions. The James Keys Hotel and the Savoy Hotel, both Asheville Green Book sites, were listed in the advertisement.