Mount Vernon Hotel (later, The Wheaton Hotel)

Creidt: The Richmond Planet, May 17, 1913

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Photograph of Mount Vernon Hotel. Credit: Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 26, 1953

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Detail of 1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Norfolk showing location of Mount Vernon Hotel (blue arrow). 1913, Sanborn Fire Insurance co. Map, Norfolk, Vol. 1, Page 18

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Mr. Bright's death certificate, 1924. Source: "Virginia, Death Certificates, 1912-1987," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 16 August 2019), Lemuel W Bright, 22 Nov 1924; from "Virginia, Marriage Records, 1700-1850," database and images, Ancestry ( : 2012); citing Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia, United States, entry #, Virginia Department of Health, Richmond.

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Advertisement announcing re-opening of the remodeled Mount Vernon Hotel as the Wheaton Hotel on January 1, 1926. Credit: Norfolk Journal and Guide, December 26, 1925:4

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Known Name(s)

Mount Vernon Hotel


633 E. Brambleton Ave. Norfolk, VA

Establishment Type(s)


Physical Status



The Mount Vernon Hotel stood on the south side of E. Brambleton Avenue (formerly Queen Street) west of its intersection with Church Street and directly across from the intersection with Lincoln Street (which, at that time, did not cross Brambleton). The widening of E. Brambleton Avenue in the 1950s and the extension of Lincoln Street resulted in the demolition of the building and the appromixate location of the site. At present (2023) Young Terrace Housing Development stands on the north side of Brambleton across from the former hotel site.

Following the death of Lem Bright, the original builder and owner, the hotel was operated by others as The Wheaton Hotel (see Green Book entry for The Wheaton Hotel). The building appears on the 1910 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map as the "Mount Vernon" and on the 1928 Sanborn Fire Insurance map as the "Wheaton." The Mount Vernon was a three-story brick building with a paneled, parapet front. The entrance to the hotel, marked by a prominent arched doorway, sidelights, and transom, was located in the western bay of the first floor level; a commercial space (at one time, a barbershop) occupied the eastern space of the ground floor, which had a separate entrance (635 E. Brambleton Avene). The building was three bays wide on the upper floors, which featured double segmental arches over the second floor window openings and jack arches over the third story windows. Other details included brick or stone stringcourses between the floors. (2023, D. McClane)

Although listed as "Mount Vernon," the hotel in 1938 was known as The Wheaton Hotel. The 1938 Green Book entry lists both establishments.

Latitude and longitude are in the general area of the 633 E. Brambleton Avenue site.

Detailed History

Lemuel W[esley] “Lem” Bright was born in Norfolk on October 3, 1870 to Owen and Mary F. Langley Bright. A newspaper profile asserted that Lem Bright received much of his business acumen from his father, who was a successful merchant in Norfolk. As a youngster, Lem had a horse and wagon ice delivery business, then became associated for several years with successful Church Street businessman Charles Egts(1825-1895), who had also served on Norfolk City Council (Richmond Planet 1913).  Prior to building the Mount Vernon hotel, Mr. Bright operated a restaurant and a boarding house in a frame building (location unknown).

In 1907, Mr. Bright built and operated the Mount Vernon Hotel at 353 Queen Street (later re-addressed as 633 E. Brambleton Street)  near the intersection with Church Street. At the time of its completion, the Mount Vernon was described as “the most modern and commodious hostelry for colored people in the United States.” Mr. Bright was noted as one of Norfolk’s “most active businessmen” and was involved in numerous other business endeavors, including being manager and part owner of the Mount Vernon Market. About 1916, he owned and operated Little Bay Beach, a bayfront resort located between Willoughby Spit and the Naval Operating Base at Little Creek. At the time regional beaches were segregated and Little Bay Beach was the only beach open to Blacks for about a 20-year span and was the site of numerous church picnics and large social functions (NJG 1953). The dance hall and boardwalk associated with the beach burned in 1929 (DiBari 2017). Just prior to his death, Mr. Bright retired from active management of the Mount Vernon to focus on his numerous real estate investments. Some of the imminent guests to stay at the Mount Vernon hotel included Booker T. Washington and his secretary, Emmett J. Scott, W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, and Judge Robert H. Terrell.

In 1898, Mr. Bright married Margaret “Maggie” V.E. Waites (1873-1907). The couple had four children, Claristine (b. 1896), Richard Waites (1903-1987), Lemuel W., Jr. (1901-1929), and George Jeffries (1906-1949). A few years after Maggie Bright died in 1907, Mr. Bright married Della (Dellie, Delphinia) Stith Taylor. Mollie Robin Bright (b. 1891) was an adopted/foster daughter. Edward Bright was a brother, and Robert Taylor was a stepson (son of Dellie). His obituary noted that he was a member of the Hiram chapter of the Royal Arch Masons, Rising Son Lodge, A.F. and A.M., Elks, Sons of Norfolk S. & B. Association, and the Aeolian Club.

The 1900 federal census listed Mr. Bright with his wife Maggie, their daughter Claristine, his mother Mary Bright, and his aunt Elinora Lawton in the same household. At the time, Mr. Bright was listed as a worker at a “saloon” (likely Mr. Egts’ establishment at 357 Church Street) The family lived at 570 Bute Street (now demolished), which was owned free of a mortgage.

In 1910, Mr. Bright is listed as a widower (Maggie having died), and occupied as the proprietor of a hotel (Mount Vernon). The household included Claristine, Lemuel Jr., Richard, George, and Mollie, as well as Mr. Bright’s mother Mary and his sister, Almira Lawrence.

In 1920, the census lists Mr. Bright with his second wife, Delphinia (Dellie), sons Richard, George, and Lem, Jr., who was a student, Mollie Bright, who had been adopted by the Brights and was occupied as a nurse, and stepson Robert Taylor. Maria Stith, Mr. Bright’s mother-in-law, also lived in the household, which was then listed at 512 E. Bute Street (now demolished; N.B. Mr. Bright’s obituary gives his address as 312 E. Bute Street).

Mr. Bright died on November 22, 1924. His funeral was held at St. John’s A.M.E. Church and he is buried in the Bright Family Lot in West Point Cemetery, Norfolk (see

Very soon after Mr. Bright’s death, the Mount Vernon was purchased by Norfolk attorney J. M. Harrison, who had experience in the hotel industry and became the new proprietor. Lawrence R. Noble, who had worked with his brother S.B. Noble in the insurance business, was named manager. Alex Norris, who was employed at the hotel under Mr. Bright, remained on with the new management. The new owners updated the hotel and renamed it “The Wheaton Hotel,” in memory of J. Frank Wheaton of New York, former Grand Exalter Ruler of the Elks. The hotel became closely associated with the Elks and became home to Harry Anderson’s Elks CafĂ© (NJG 1925; NJG 1926).  By 1940, Bertram Brown purchased the hotel and was listed in the 1940 Norfolk Directory as providing “furnished rooms.” At that time, the local chapter (no. 984) of the International Longshoremen’s Association occupied the former barbershop space at 635 E. Brambleton Avenue. Mr. Brown’s widow, Devetta Morris, continued to operate the hotel through the 1950s (NJG 1953). [For more information, see entry for the Wheaton Hotel.]

In 1953, the front 40 feet of the hotel was removed during the widening of Brambleton Avenue. By 1960, the remainder of the building was demolished during redevelopment efforts in the area undertaken by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NJG 1953; Bright 1960).

Sources: “Persistence in Business Wins: How L.W. Bright Regained Prestige After Failure,” The Richmond Planet, May 17, 1913:8; “Lem W. Bright is Claimed by Death,” New Journal and Guide, Nov. 29, 1924:1; “Hotel Was Built By L. W. Bright, Norfolk Pioneer,” New Journal and Guide, Sep. 26, 1953:A14A; “To Open January 1 with New Appointments: Elaborate Plans for Opening of Wheaton Hotel,” New Journal and Guide, Dec. 19, 1925;9; “Elks Cafe in Hotel Wheaton Winning Its Way with the Public,” New Journal and Guide, March 13, 1926:7; Richard W. Bright, Letter to the Editor, “Business Achievements Of The Past Generation; Newspapers As Recorders,” New Journal and Guide, April 23, 1960:9; Shari DiBari, “Sea View Beach and Amusement Park: An African-American Gem on Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay,” September 2017. This research was funded with a 2017 Research Grant from the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission (


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