Idlewild's famed Hotel Casa Blanca being restored 

Drs Ida Short, left, and Charlene Austin, members of 1st Neighbor, an organization spearheading the renovation of Hotel Casa Blanca, are excited about the progress being made.

Drs Ida Short, left, and Charlene Austin, members of 1st Neighbor, an organization spearheading the renovation of Hotel Casa Blanca, are excited about the progress being made.

Star photo/Shanna Avery

IDLEWILD — Standing as a remnant of time, the Hotel Casa Blanca, "the place to go" during the heyday of Idlewild, will be bustling with life once again.

Moving forward with a vision of reviving the hotel and preserving its history as a Green Book site, the group 1st Neighbor is making the restoration a reality. The group, 1st Neighbor, is a 501c3 nonprofit organization established by three Black women educators, Dr. Charlene Austin, Dr. Ida Short, and Ms. Betti Wiggins. Austin and Short met with the Star outside of the Casa Blanca Hotel to discuss the exciting plans. 

The stately 35-room building, beautifully framed with towering hemlocks, creates a picturesque scene at the corner of Hall and Arbutus streets in the town of Idlewild, which was one of the most popular resorts for African Americans in the country during times of segregation, also drawing well-known entertainers and professionals. 

Major renovations began about nine months ago with the work of contractor Andy Steig, who has been stabilizing the structure and making much-needed repairs, as the building has been vacant for a few decades. Some of the work includes replacing and repairing beams and joints, repairing a leaking roof and cleaning out wet debris to let the building dry, placing new flooring to help stabilize the building, and more. 

"Andy has been working hard, and it is hard now because of the cold winter," Austin said. 

With such a rich past and tremendous legacy, the plans are to revive the building to be used as a place of enrichment and of service to the community and area. 

"Once restored, we plan to have a learning center, museum, bread and breakfast, residential housing for veterans and a boutique," Short said. "The Casa Blanca was built in 1949 by W.C. Commb from the ground up with 35 rooms. It opened in 1950, and provided patrons community bathrooms opened year-round and a bar in the basement opened 24 hours."

Short explained during that time Idlewild had a lot of businesses including a few gas stations, several stores, restaurants, an amusement park, roller skating rink, clubs and more. Some of the entertainers and famous people including Dr. Daniel Hale Williams who performed the first successful heart transplant, Aretha Franklin, Della Reese, Count Basie, Jackie Wilson and writers such as Charles Waddell Chesnutt and W.E.B. Du Bois were among visitors. 

Austin is anticipating the new beginning for Hotel Casa Blanca.

"I think it is a national treasure," Austin said. "We are preserving this not only for us, but generations to come. This is history. Black skilled and professional people came together and made Idlewild what it is known as: Black Eden."

The hopes are to have the renovation project complete by this time next year.