The historic International Hotel in Richmond — where Black train porters organized their first union — was destroyed by fire Monday.

The Richmond Fire Department was called at 5:45 a.m. to reports of a fire at the old, unoccupied hotel. Firefighters arrived at 5:51 a.m. to find the building fully engulfed in flames.

Owned by activist Ethel Dotson, the hotel was built around 1900. While the Pullman Company’s white railroad workers stayed in a Pullman-owned hotel in Richmond, it’s Black porters stayed at the International a few blocks away during layovers, according to the city.

A Black Pullman railroad porter makes up the bed of an upper berth aboard the Capitol Limited in 1942. (Jack Delano/Library of Congress via Wikipedia, CC0)

The city’s website says the International Hotel “certainly must have been the site of much organizing and socializing that eventually led to the establishing of the (national) Railroad Porters Union that caused such a stir in Washington during the Roosevelt administration.”

It was also an after-hours entertainment spot, where some have said artists such as Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway performed during the time around World War II.

The hotel was at 396 South Street, which was recently renamed Ethel Dotson Street.

The fire spread to houses on either side of the building. Six people were evacuated, and no injuries were reported, said battalion chief Rico Rincon. Both homes sustained major damage and will likely be red tagged, meaning they are uninhabitable, Rincon said.

Firefighters had the fire under control by 6:58 a.m.

Rincon said investigators are trying to determine a cause. Squatters have been known to stay in the building, though no one was there Monday morning, Rincon said.

The Red Cross responded to help the six displaced people in the nearby affected homes.