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6 Fascinating Facts About the Wells’Built Museum in Orlando

Since 2009, the Wells’Built Museum has celebrated the spirit and resilience of Orlando’s African American community. The history museum displays mementos from Black residents of the City Beautiful. It’s the perfect place to visit during February (Black History Month) or any time of year.

Exterior of the Wells'Built Museum in Orlando
Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here are six things to know about the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture.

1.      It started as a hotel.

In 1917, a young Black doctor named William Monroe Wells opened a practice in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood.

Parramore was in dire need of a physician. Back then, African Americans in much of the U.S. could only go to Black-owned doctor’s offices. While getting to know his new patients, he discovered something else Parramore needed.

Residents often had to host visiting family and friends, as they could not find a hotel that would accommodate them.

In response, Dr. Wells opened the 20-room Wells’Built Hotel.

2.      The Wells’Built Hotel hosted many famous faces.

Dr. Wells’ business acumen also led him to build the South Street Casino.

By day, the South Street Casino was an all-ages community center with a basketball court and roller rink.

But at night, the downtown Orlando venue became a bustling nightclub. It attracted music fans from all over Central Florida. Big entertainers like Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, and Louis Armstrong graced the South Street Casino stage. At the end of the night, they’d rest at the Wells’Built Hotel.

So did star athletes like Jackie Robinson and political trailblazers like Thurgood Marshall.

And so did Ray Charles. In a time when accessible rooms were rare, Dr. Wells made sure there was a room the blind singer could get around safely.

Ray Charles, musician and frequent guest at the Wells'Built Hotel (now Wells'Built Museum)

Dr. Wells’ dedication to providing cozy guestrooms to all paid off. The hotel earned a spot in the Green Book, a guide for Black travelers that was immortalized in a 2018 film. Word about the hotel spread, and the Wells’Built thrived for decades.

3.      The Wells’Built Museum opened after a heartfelt restoration process.

The Wells’Built Hotel closed in 1957, a year after Dr. Wells’ passing.

Over the next few decades, the building fell into disrepair. In the 1990s, the Orlando government considered demolishing it.

It was saved in part because of state representatives Alzo J. Reddick and Geraldine Thompson. Rep. Thompson fell in love with the hotel’s history while conducting research at nearby Valencia College. Rep. Reddick had grown up in Parramore and delivered newspapers to the hotel as a child.

The two helped spread awareness about the building’s history and raised the funds needed to refurbish it.

In 2000, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nine years later, it reopened as the Wells’Built Museum. Geraldine Thompson’s daughter, Elizabeth, serves on the museum’s board of directors.

4.      It’s packed with amazing artifacts.

At the front of the museum, you’ll find murals of residents and leaders who made their mark on the neighborhood.

From there, you’ll find rooms full of photos and letters from former residents and their families. The Wells’Built Museum also has a massive collection of 20th-century home goods, including kitchenware, toys, and vinyl records. When you’re done exploring these museum exhibits, head upstairs.

There, you will find a hotel room frozen in time. It features furniture and décor that would have greeted a guest at the Wells’Built Hotel in the 1930s.

5.      A museum expansion is underway.

The South Street Casino was demolished in 1987 after a destructive fire.

The lot stood vacant until the 2000s. That’s when the Orlando government announced plans to build the Amway Center on the land where Dr. Wells’ house still stood. The city decided to move the Wells family home onto the land where the casino had been. That house will soon host a museum gift shop and café.

The expansion will also bring conference rooms, a theater, and new interactive exhibits.

Construction on the new museum spaces will begin soon.

6.      It’s close to top Orlando entertainment venues and restaurants.

Like the hotel and entertainment venue that came before it, the Wells’Built Museum draws flocks of Orlando visitors and locals.

The museum is within walking distance of the Amway Center and Exploria Stadium. Spend a day at the Wells’Built before you venture out for a concert, basketball game, or soccer match.

The Wells’Built Museum is also a short drive from Camping World Stadium and UCF’s Creative Village.

Parramore is also home to up-and-coming businesses like Deadwords Brewing and the Monroe. The latter was named in Dr. William Monroe Wells’ honor.

The Wells’Built Museum: A Legacy of Hospitality and Placemaking

When exploring the Wells’Built Museum, one thing quickly becomes clear. Dr. William Monroe Wells dedicated his life to making travelers from all walks of life feel welcome in Orlando. And he provided his guests with this unmatched service while investing in the local community.

Harris Rosen receives Coretta Scott King award for work in Parramore, where the Wells'Built Museum is based.

A stay at Rosen Centre on International Drive allows us to carry on that legacy today. Through our CSR work, we empower young Parramore residents through education, from preschool to college.

In 2016, this commitment to local youth earned our founder Harris Rosen a Coretta Scott King A.N.G.E.L. Award.

Follow us on Instagram at Rosen_Centre