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A piece of downtown history, rediscovered

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News / August 07, 2017
A piece of South Boston history is up for sale: the antique front desk from the Hotel John Randolph, built in 1928 during downtown South Boston’s heyday.

The solid oak front desk can be yours for $2,500, the asking price on a Facebook yard sale site. The furnishing went up for sale this week.

The owner is David Crews of South Boston, who came across the front desk sometime in the early 1990s when he purchased an empty warehouse on Wall Street, just up from the train tracks at the foot of downtown. The countertop oak desk was sitting in storage inside the warehouse. The building’s seller told Crews about its origins.

“It was the lobby front desk — [the warehouse owner] told me that’s where it came from. I don’t know how it was acquired. No idea,” said Crews.

Crews, an ABB retiree who is in his late 60s and has lived here his entire life, said he can’t remember a time when the Randolph operated as a downtown hotel, although there’s a Randolph Motor Inn sign that hangs outside the building today. Boarded up and empty, the Randolph is the focus on a concerted public-private effort to bring a boutique hotel to downtown South Boston. In this year alone, the Town of South Boston has received a half-million dollars in state grant funding to revive the Randolph as a 27-room, boutique inn.

Crews does remember the restaurants that once operated out of the hotel’s Charles Street cellar — including an establishment by that name that was popular for a time some years ago. But it’s been many years since he gave much thought to the Randolph front desk, although he has followed efforts to revive the Randolph in local newspaper stories.

Asked why he was putting the piece up for sale now, Crews said, “I figure somebody might want it. It’s historic. Anybody who’s interested in it can do what they want with it.

The oak desk is in “pretty good shape,” with a small cash drawer built into countertop. The desk is about six feet long and two feet wide, and the original oak has never been refinished, Crews said.

“It looks to me like [it’s from] the 1920s. I’m not really up on antiques, but it just looks to me like that period.”

According to An Architectural History of Halifax County, Virginia, the Hotel John Randolph opened in November 1928 after groundbreaking for construction was held in May of that same year. Originally, the hotel included 54 rooms and 25 private baths. A distinguishing feature of The Randolph was its nearly-fireproof brick, concrete and steel construction; the previous building at the site, the old Garland Hotel, had burned twice.

To inquire about purchasing the Randolph desk, call 434-222-7278 or go on the Riverdale Yard Sale Page on Facebook at

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